Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Indigo Necklace Murders: Review

Well, I'll bet I'm the only girl who ever got blacked out by a medical book on mental trouble. That's special. Usually it's a poker. Or a bottle.

Pat and Jean Abbott find themselves in an old mansion in French New Orleans in The Indigo Necklace Murders* (1945) by Frances Crane. Pat is now a Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and has been stationed in New Orleans after serving overseas in Intelligence. The city is teeming with people and there is a shortage of housing, so Pat becomes a paying guest at the home of his friend Major Roger Clary, scion of a proud Creole family. Due to Pat's work, Jean is often alone in their rooms at night and she regularly hears the sound of a clicking latch and "whispering" footsteps along their balcony and even through their front room. She isn't too worried until the night she finds a white-robed body at the bottom of the balcony's stairway. And gets slugged over the head when she tries to go for help.

Things don't look so good for Major Clary when the body is discovered to be that of his mentally incompetent wife. And they look even worse when it's revealed that Mrs. Clary was a rich woman and the Major had fallen in love with someone else. It's impossible to divorce an insane wife and Captain Jonas, the local representative of the law, is convinced that Clary took the easiest way out of his marriage by giving his wife a nice shove down the stairs. But Pat and Jean are convinced that Captain Jonas's one-track mind is making him blind to the real killer--there are others in the household who have a motive or may have been involved. There's the nurse who may have tried to dose her mistress with herbs to ill effect and has pulled a disappearing act. Also in the mix are Uncle George and Aunt Dollie who might have counted on a piece of the financial pie once the Major was free of his wife. There's Ava Graham, a hanger-on, who is definitely hiding secrets and her beau, Toby Wick, who has a murky past under a much different name. And there's Aunt Rita (Marguerite Clary), matriarch of the family, who dotes on Roger and may have wished her favorite to be free to marry the girl he loves. 

There are suggestions of voodoo--thus the indigo necklace...somehow these blue beads mean voodoo and/or witchcraft to the locals, murmurs of jealousy among the servants, a hint of blackmail, a secret room that proves to be not-so-secret after all. Pat will help lead Captain Jonas in the right direction, but it will be Jean's brush with the killer that will bring the crime home to the proper quarter.

This is not, in my opinion, Crane's best effort--at least as far as the mystery goes. Clues are sparse, the wrap-up is rushed and too easily settled, and I don't quite agree with the motivations and identity of the villain. Perhaps with a bit more groundwork it would be more believable. What does work in this book is the representation of the times. I had said that my previous review (The Jade Venus) was the most representative of the books I'd read for Rich's Crimes of Century. This one is perhaps even more so. Abbott and Clary are both very involved with war work. Carol Graham, Clary's love interest, has a "defense job" and also works as a nurse's aide. And everything's crowded and in short supply because of the war effort. As Pat Abbott notes, "You waited for anything and everything these days in crowded New Orleans, so it was perfectly logical to wait for a hospital room."  

Unfortunately, the treatment of the servants (who are all African American) by some of the characters is also of the time. The worst of it is the assumption that they all believe in voodoo, witchcraft, and superstition and aren't smart enough to know any better. Racism and the privilege of the white classes is evident--but I will say that one of those who treat the servants badly, Captain Jonas, is all for equal opportunity prejudice. He is just as likely to pigeon hole the Creoles as clannish, snobbish, and unlikely to tell the truth--especially about anything that might affect their money and their social standing.

★★ and a half.

With fellow lurking behind the curtain, this fulfills the "More Than Two People" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. It is also my second entry in  Rich's Crimes of the Century post for April. 
*Originally published as The Indigo Necklace


fredamans said...

I think I will definitely pass on this one. :-)

Ryan said...

Sounds like a good premise, and the cover is gorgeous. But I don't think I'll be looking for this one anytime soon.

Bev Hankins said...

Not Crane's best by a long shot.