Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Let Dead Enough Alone: Review

I've already read a few books from Frances and Richard Lockridge this year, but Let Dead Enough Alone (1955) was my first Captain Heimrich novel in a good long while. This one finds Lynn Ross, recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, invited to a New Year's Eve party at the home of her psychiatrist. Dr. Margaret Halley has invited an assortment of people to share the holiday with her and her husband John. As she tells John, it will be a nice change of pace for them. It will stimulate and provide therapy for him. She insists that he has been falling into a depressive state of late--he doesn't agree. Says he feels fine--speaking as a layman, of course.

Those who have been invited, aside from Miss Ross, are Dr. Brian Perry--another psychiatrist and neurologist; Struther Boyd, a golfing friend of John's who invents and has received monetary support from the Halleys; Tom Kemper, the perennial house guest, always available for a party; and Audrey Lathem, a protege of John's--who makes claims to something more. Once the party is complete, they settle down to dinner and, later, drinks while a winter storm comes along to isolate the house. When morning comes, John Halley's body is found in the lake and Margaret Halley is upset to think that John's depression was even worse than she thought.

But Trooper Crowley, first on the scene, isn't convinced that it was suicide. After all, as he points out to Captain Heimrich later, "Why would a man go out and jump in a cold lake? Do it the hard way?" Heimrich agrees that it must have been cold. And not nearly as comfortable a death as a nice warm garage, with the motor running.

Or sleeping pills. Half full bottle in his room. Nembutal, his wife says. She prescribed it. It would have been the easy way.

So, why did John Halley choose the hard way? Or, if someone else chose it for him, how did they get John Halley down to the lake in the middle of a snow storm in order to offer up his head for a good bashing (because, yes, he was bashed--or hit his head on a rock when he slipped into the lake...if it was an accident)? Then Miss Ross mentions an electric blanket that stopped working in the middle of the night and that provides the clue to how Halley was lured to the boat house at the lake's edge. And when Heimrich starts digging he finds motives aplenty among the guests. Dr. Perry may have wanted revenge for his wife's death--an boating accident at the hands of Halley that may well have been less accidental than first thought. Or maybe Margaret wanted out of a marriage to an older man. It's also possible that Halley was forcing Struthers Boyd to repay that money loaned him and maybe Boyd didn't have the money. Audrey may have discovered that Halley wasn't as serious about her as she thought, and you know what they say about a woman scorned. Kemper seems a little too knowledgeable about the generator in the boat house--the generator that was the lure to get Halley down to the lake. Heimrich has his choice of suspects, but he and Charlie Forniss gather the clues and force the hand of the murderer in a final battle of wits.

Heimrich really harps on "the character fits the crime" in this one. I've seen notes that there really isn't any clues to the killer's identity and that Heimrich "just guesses" who the culprit is. I think it's a mixture of that and taking psychology clues first and then adding them to a few late clues provided by the second victim. I was quite certain who the villain was--primarily from certain psychological indications that came through their testimony. Of course, that wouldn't stand up in court, but with the additional clues brought out in witness statements there is a line of reasoning that is more than mere guess. That said, this isn't one of the strongest Heimrich cases. Possibly because the focus is split between his investigation and seeing events through the eyes of Lynn Ross. It feels a bit like the Lockridges couldn't make up their minds whether to make this one of their suspense novels (with focus on a heroine) or a Heimrich novel. But it is still an entertaining mystery and I did like the "country house" feel and the chapters that focused on Heimrich's investigation. ★★

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