Friday, January 13, 2017

The 24th Horse: Review

If you don't know anything at all about jumping, we take you through a series of twenty-four lessons....The idea is we put you on the gentlest horse we've got first...You go from that to horse number two and so on. When you've ridden the twenty-fourth horse, sir, you know all the answers. 
~Peter Shea (The 24th Horse (1940) by Hugh Pentecost)

Inspector Bradley of the New York Police Department certainly hopes that he won't have to go through the equivalent of twenty-four horses to find out all the answers to who who killed Gloria Prayne and stuffed her in the rumble seat of her sister's car.

He's not terribly pleased when Johnny Curtin, at the instigation of Bradley's friend Mr. Julius, drives the car and the body to his apartment but can't help being interested. Mr. Julius wants to be sure that Bradley is the one to be assigned the case--he's gotten used to him after working with the Inspector in a previous case (Cancelled in Red, the first Bradley book by Pentecost). Mr. Julius is also friends of the Prayne family and wants the case solved as quickly as possible with as little publicity as possible. He knows Bradley will get to the truth without creating too much scandal.

Gloria had been missing for a few days, but nobody thought much of it. The young beauty had been a bit of a wild one, running off for days at a time but always coming back home. Johnny, who was initially interested in Gloria's sister Pat, had fallen briefly under her spell and just come to his senses on the last night she was seen. In fact, when he told her he wouldn't be going around with her anymore, she got a bit miffed, walked out on him, and was never seen again. At least that's his story...and nobody else who knows her will admit seeing her after that. Not her father or her sister or her aunt. Not the man she was engaged to or their two friends. Gloria simply disappeared into thin air and then made her startling reappearance in the rumble seat.

Bradley investigates and discovers the faint smell of blackmail. But it's difficult to decide who was the blackmailer and who the victim was  (or victims were). Gloria left a sealed envelope (sealed with her particular sealing wax) with her friend Linda Marsh--telling her to take it to the police if anything happened to her. But then when something does happen and Linda turns it over to Bradley, they discover nothing but blank pages. 

Another murder takes place and Bradley finds clues that leads him to the story of another woman's disappearance--Dorothy Pelham, the wife of another friend of the Praynes. The more he investigates, the more certain he becomes that the first disappearance is important to the recent murders. But what really happened to Dorothy? Is the secret that she's started another life somewhere? Or was she murdered. And who most wants that secret kept hidden? Until Bradley rides the horse with that answer (and it may take twenty-four after all), he won't be able to solve the current deaths. 

The horse metaphors are all tied in to the opening--which takes place at the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden where Pat Payne is taking part in the show jumping event. Pat and Douglas Pelham (the missing Dorothy's husband) also run a horse riding school. And the final show-down takes place at the school--though don't think I'm giving anything away. There's no reason why it had to take place there...other than a good metaphorical tie-in.

I seem to be on a good run of good books. Either that or I'm just in a generous four-star-giving mood lately. This is a fast-paced mystery that is tightly plotted and works well in the short Popular Library digest length. A hundred and fifty-eight pages may not seem like a lot for a full-length novel, but Pentecost works in a good handful of suspects and plenty of detective spade-work to keep armchair detectives guessing. I quite enjoyed meeting Inspector Bradley and appreciated the mix of excellent investigator with a man with a heart and scruples (when it comes to protecting the innocent). Previous to this, I had read only the mysteries starring Pierre Chambrun, hotel manager (which are also quite good). I will definitely be looking for the other Bradley stories. ★★★★

 This counts for the "Skeletal Hand or Skull" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

TracyK said...

A gorgeous cover. An author I used to love reading back in my youth. I have to get a copy of this.