Friday, September 30, 2016

The Clue in the Clay: Review

Holy Harry! Wait till McClennan sees that! He'll tear Mabel Edwards' house down brick by brick with his bare hands. If there's one thing that McClennan hates with his whole insides, it's that fiction kind of detective work. He reads murder mysteries just to tear 'em limb-from-bush at the end! Oh, man! This is something for the books. 

The Clue in the Clay (1938), written under the name D. B. Olsen, was the first mystery novel for (Julia Clara Catherine) Dolores (Birk Olsen) Hitchens. It is one of two mysteries to feature Lieutenant Stephen Mayhew. Mayhew and his lovely wife Sara are on their honeymoon in San Francisco when they run into one of Mayhew's old friends and classmates, Officer Franklin Charles, who is drowning his sorrows at a local night spot. Charles was the man on the scene when an apparent suicide was discovered and he managed to let the one witness he had run off without getting his pertinent information. Needless to say, his superiors were none too happy with him and gave him a couple of earfuls on the subject. Then, when he went home for sympathy from his wife, she got mad at him and went off to let him stew for a few days. It's not clear if it's his wife he's gonna miss or her cooking: "My wife can make biscuits and pies like nobody's business."

As soon as Mayhew hears the full details of the man in the green suit who ran away and the description of how the body was discovered, he's quite sure that this is no suicide. Charles, hoping to get back in good graces, introduces Mayhew to Inspector Bailey. The Lieutenant and Inspector set to work interviewing the neighbors, friends, and relative of Mabel Edwards, the sculptress who was found dead. There are motives simply pouring out every which way from who inherits to who hated whom to who loved whom. And there's something important about the hideous plaster statue of a druid--the last piece that Edwards was working on. Important enough for someone to steal and then return it to the dead woman's house. The two detectives finally pull together enough threads to stage the grand finale, recreate-the-crime scene that Bailey's boss, McClennan is going to hate (see quote above). But Mayhew comes through with the goods and identifies the culprit.

This story reminds me of many a B-mystery movie that I watched on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in days of yore (before the American Movie Channel and Netflix...and even before DVDs). There are so many people in and out of the "murder house," there's the creepy druid statue, there's the long-abandoned mine, there's the mysterious private eye that no one can lay hands on, and there's more people popping in and out of the bushes than several rounds of "Pop Goes the Weasel"--as Hilda, the Swedish maid of one of the neighbors, notes:

Dey were all in de booshes dat day.

And, then, of course there are our heroes, Lieutenant Mayhew and Inspector, constantly getting punched or shot or abandoned at the bottom of mine shafts. It's enough to make you reach for the buttered popcorn. 

This is a great deal of fun. It's full of adventure and fast-moving action with likeable protagonists and plenty of characters to suspect and dislike and hope that they're guilty. Olsen also does a fairly good job providing clues for the attentive reader, making this an action mystery with decent fair play. ★★ and a half.

This fulfills the "Ghostly Figure" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Jason Half said...

Another very fun review of a neglected mystery/suspense title from you, Bev! I think you are providing mystery fans a great service by dusting off titles like THE CLUE IN THE CLAY, which all too easily can slip into obscurity. You're also leaving a summary and analysis for future readers to discover and use, which is excellent.

Thanks so much for your dedication to, and love of, classic (and B-list) detective stories! It's always entertaining to see what you will read next. -- Jason

Bev Hankins said...

Jason, thanks so much! I appreciate your good comments. I try very hard to summarize without giving too much away.