Sunday, July 23, 2017

Room for Murder

Judging from the cover of Room for Murder (1955) by Doris Miles Disney, it would seem that after going to the dogs I have now changed my allegiance to cats. Except that cats don't really have a whole lot to do with the story. Sure, Aggie Scanlon, one of our main characters, has taken on the nursing duties of three kittens when their mama doesn't want to be bothered with feeding them. And...she's even named them Wyken, Blyken, and Nod. And maybe they reflect her penchant for taking in the motherless and abandoned. But they have nothing to do with the death of Mr. Robert Lovejoy. And they certainly don't have anything to do with solving the mystery. 

Oh...and there aren't any blonde young women running around in nightgowns either. So, you might ask, what do we have? Well, as mentioned above, there is the death of Mr. Robert Lovejoy. So I'm guessing that's him on the cover. But you never know. That might be an entirely different dead body that has nothing whatsoever to do with the story. (What? Oh...okay, I'll get on with it.)

The Misses Kate and Aggie Scanlon are sisters of Irish extraction who run a rooming house at 1228 Drum Street in Somerset, Connecticut. They live there with several boarders as well as their niece, Teresa, who has lived with them since she was a toddler. She is now of marriageable age. The aunts despair of Teresa ever finding a suitable husband--for which read rich, well-established in a good job (doctor, lawyer, etc.), and Catholic. Teresa has shown no interest in any of the prospects who have had the aunts' seal of approval thus far.

Of the sisters, Kate is the level-headed one. She has charge of the house, does the cooking, and generally vets any prospective roomers. Aggie is more flighty, romantic, and apt to take in anybody who looks like they need a good home. Her one other vice (as these things are viewed by Kate) is reading true crime magazines. She was a maid in service before the sisters took on the rooming house and even now she does the maid's work--general cleaning and "doing up" the rooms. When Mr. Robert Lovejoy came looking for a room, he was very seedy looking and not all the type that Kate would have approved of. Fortunately for Mr. Lovejoy, Kate wasn't at home and Aggie had him installed in a room before Kate can object.

Mr. Lovejoy isn't the ideal roomer. Oh, he's polite enough and causes no trouble while he's alive. But he has the air of the rolling stone about him, has no job--though he claims to be looking, and has the odor of alcohol about him more often than Kate believes necessary. He comes home one night having had one (or two) more than his limit, exchanges a few words with Aggie, and then later Aggie hears him drop his shoes on the floor and stumble into bed in the room above hers. Later that night, she is awakened by an unknown sound. She then hears odd, shuffling shoe-shod footsteps above her head. She wonders in her half-wakened state why Mr. Lovejoy would put his shoes back on to go to the bathroom and falls back to sleep.

When morning comes, Mr. Lovejoy is discovered dead below his opened window. Chief of Detectives Zimmerman and Lieutenant Birdsall hear Aggie's story of Lovejoy's return home the night before, take one look at his bed, and decide that the man came home blind drunk, felt sick, stumbled to the window for air, and fell out. Sergeant Dennis Callahan and Aggie aren't convinced. Miss Aggie tries to impress upon the ranking officers the importance of the footsteps--she's just sure they weren't Mr. Lovejoy and both she and Dennis wonder why the man didn't cry out or grab the curtains to try and save himself. 

At first Dennis is just a little curious and uses the small irregularities as an excuse to return to the house and get better acquainted with Teresa (whom he has taken quite a shine to--to the aunts' dismay, after all he's just a policeman). But with Aggie's dogged determination to play detective herself and her steadfast belief that Mr. Lovejoy was murdered forces Dennis to look more closely at everything and soon he's following up clues--from those mysterious footsteps to a newspaper article kept by the dead man to references to a barroom brawl that happened years ago and resulted in another man's death. Clues that lead him to a startling conclusion.

Disney writes a perfect blend of domestic suspense and standard mystery. There are clues that a clever reader can follow to their logical conclusion and, while there aren't a large number of suspects, it is very interesting to follow Miss Aggie and Dennis in their separate investigations. Disney also provides a good dose of humor in this story--the interactions between Kate and Aggie over the latter's apparent lack of good sense is well-played and funny. Though the sisters squabble, it's apparent that there is a great deal of affection between them that has kept them together all these years. There's quite a lot of interest in this slim volume; it's amazing how much Disney packs into 176 pages. Deft charactizations, human interest, humor, and nicely done suspenseful mystery. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Damsel in Distress" category on the "Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Kate said...

Glad this is another good one by Disney. And yes some front covers design trends are a little bizarre when you consider the actual plot of the book.

Ann Summerville said...

I stopped by your blog today.