Thursday, September 8, 2016

While the Wind Howled: Review

Audrey Gaines [Schultz] was born in Alexandria Virginia and appears (from what I can find online) to have written five mysteries. While the Wind Howled (1940) is the second of these and the second to feature Carrie Storm (aka "Carrie the Redheaded Nurse"). Nurse Carrie has been called upon to care for Marcia Halliday, a beautifully mannered middle-aged woman who heads the Halliday family--one of the oldest of Washington's Old Guard. Monica is recovering from an operation, but it doesn't prevent her from keeping tabs on all that goes on in Chevy Chase Hlls, Maryland. When the cruel husband of her daughter Nora is found dead in his bedroom, apparently poisoned, she asks Carrie to call upon her fiance, private detective Chauncey O'Day to sort things out.

Nora had learned very quickly that Garrick Temple was a horrible husband and it didn't take her long to seek solace in the arms of the handsome Doctor Peter Hyde. To anyone looking for the obvious, it would seem that either she or the lover might have doctored the sleeping capsules with the dose of strychnine that sent Temple to an early grave. Of course, they aren't the only ones who might have wanted Garrick gone. There's his estranged son and daughter who may have hoped to speed any inheritance coming their way. There's James Truant, husband of Garrik's sister-in-law, who may not have cared for Irma's unseemly interest in the man. There's Pegleg, the handyman who lost part of his leg in the First World War and who may have resented his dependence on Garrick Temple's "generosity." And there's Barry Destine who has always been in love with Nora and may have thought releasing her from the ogre would turn her love towards him.

Then O'Day makes a few discoveries that seem to point to Nora having been the target instead of her husband. But who would want to kill Nora? Oh, maybe Irma who resents Garrick's second wife--particularly since she wanted to be wife number two herself. Or maybe her stepson or stepdaughter thought if Nora were out of the way then they might bury the hatchet with daddy. The mysterious events don't stop there, however. A blackmailing songstress will entry the picture...as will Pegleg's missing peg leg, two wrong victims, a stolen batch of strychnine, a black scrapbook full of sketches and a Yale key thrown out into the snow....and a snowman that appears overnight. O'Day, with the reluctant help of the fiery tempered and opinionated Nurse Carrie, will have to put all these pieces together and more in order to discover the culprit.

This is a decent little vintage mystery for a quick comfort read. Not an intricate plot and old hands at the crime game will probably spot the murderer, but still enjoyable. Marcia Halliday is a great example of the period's grande dame and O'Day is an interesting take on the private detective. Nurse Carrie falls a little short for me--but probably because I spent my time comparing her to another peppery nurse--Mignon G. Eberhart's Sarah Keate. I think Eberhart manages her indignant but curious nurse much better. Overall it was worth the time spent and was an enjoyable read, but it's not equal to any of the period's classics. ★★

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The back cover gives me a nice "Country Scene" for the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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