Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Mystery Woman: Review

The Mystery Woman (1929) by John Ulrich Giesy & Junius B. Smith

"The Mystery Woman" is the name given to a woman who is found dead in small country town. It appears at first that she is the victim of a "machine" accident (as the characters in the book repeatedly refer to automobiles) and the only question is whether Dr. Arthur Nixon is the one who ran her down and is now trying to cover up his complicity or if, as he and his companion (a nurse who seems to be on a bit more than a professional footing with him) state, he found her along the road and merely brought her to the Hospital as any good Samaritan would. Inspector James Kirk* arrives on the scene ready to mark it down as an accident, but both Dr. Nixon and the hospital surgeon believe there is more to it than meets the eye. The wound on the woman's head is inconsistent with a motoring accident and it is soon proven that she was struck down before being run over--and it wasn't the doctor's car who drove over her body. With very little to go on--just a few burdock thorns, bits of grass and leaves, and an instinct for the irregular, Kirk convinces Gordon, one of the local newspaper men to play up the story to create interest in and mystery around the victim. When she dies from her injuries, it becomes a murder case and Kirk is even more determined to find the person who left her to die. He discovers that she had traveled from Iowa in a search of someone. Did she find that person? And was that person so unwilling to be found that she or he struck down the pursuer to protect themselves? Kirk builds his case piece by piece until he can prove who "The Mystery Woman" came to see...and who it was that was responsible for her death.

This is a fairly good American mystery from the 1920s with an interesting plot revolving around the police procedures of the time. The clues are fairly displayed--the reader learns everything that the inspector learns as the information is found. There is perhaps a bit of melodrama surrounding the "Mystery Woman's" story and her reasons for coming to a strange town, but it's not over-the-top and, given the period the story was written, the motives are perfectly sound.

The primary complaint that I have with the writing is the amount of time we spend following the detective's thoughts. It's one thing to let the reader in on the detective's thought processes. It's another to be beaten over the head with them. He is told various details by experts or witnesses and then we follow him (repeatedly) thinking over these details and musing over what they mean. We don't just get new theories, but he goes through the whole thing again. Short example: tiny bits of vegetation are found on the victims clothes and each time he thinks about these clues we are told again: "the nurse thought those were burdock-spines and I thought the grass was wild. They are burdock-spines; the grass is wild. Therefore, the woman was hit over the head somewhere else and put in the road. Hmmmm. What could that mean?" Insert new theory. Rinse and repeat for each phase of the investigation. 

However, beyond the overly introspective interludes, the characters are solid and I definitely enjoyed the interactions between Kirk and Gordon. They make a good team and it's a shame that there weren't more books featuring them. Given time, I think they could have been developed into a solid series. It was also interesting to see the attitudes of midwesterners/easterners (location not quite definite) towards those new-fangled "machines" invading the roadways and causing accidents right and left. A decent mystery and a nice step into an earlier time period. ★★

*Did anyone who knows my background as a Classic Trek fan suppose that I could resist an Inspector by the name of James Kirk?


This counts for the "Green Object" (her shirt) on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card as well as my first offering in the 1929 edition of Rich's Crimes of Century over at Past Offenses. If you have any 1929 crime fiction hanging out on your shelves, then come join us!


fredamans said...

Funny coincidence in the name... had my attention for sure. :-)

J F Norris said...

Giesy was primarily a short story for the pulp magazines. He didn't write novels per se. His longer works were published in serial format and almost in partnership with a collaborator. Smith was the writer he worked with most often on serials. THE MYSTERY WOMAN was originally serialized in Flynn's Detective Magazine in Oct-Nov 1924. The repetitive nature of the narrative might owe a lot to its serial origins where key plot elements were repeated to refresh the reader's memory. Those passages usually weren't deleted by editors when a publisher decided to reprint the serial in book format.

Bev Hankins said...

Thanks, John. That would certainly explain a lot. It's a shame that it wasn't edited for the book edition. It could have been very good, I think.