Sunday, October 15, 2017

Death in the Doll's House: Review

Death in the Doll's House (1943) by Hannah Lees and Lawrence Bachmann features a story where a good hefty dose of child psychology comes in handy to find the killer of Celia Bliss Starling. Celia was a dark-haired beauty who just couldn't help the fascinating effect she had on the male species. Randall, her husband loved her more than anything--but couldn't help being jealous of his wife's attraction for other men. His jealousy drives him to drink and who knows what a drunken jealous man might do if pushed far enough? Blacker Farragon, doctor and friend to the Randall Starling is summoned by Celia on the night of the tragedy. She says she's afraid that "something's going to blow" and wants Blackie to find a way to calm Ranny down. Blackie isn't so sure that it isn't a cover for the dark-haired siren to try her charms out on him one more time, but makes an effort to talk to his friend. But he makes little progress and leaves the house convinced that Celia is making mountains out of molehills just for a little attention.

He immediately feels guilty when he's awakened several hours later by a phone call telling him that Celia is dead from a gunshot and Ranny is in bad shape from an apparently self-inflicted wound. The cops are ready to accept the obvious--that Starling's jealousy finally got the better of him and he killed his wife and then attempted to commit suicide once he realized what he'd done. But Blackie doesn't believe it. He's known Ranny far too long and knows that his friend isn't a murderer. But if Ranny didn't do it, then who did?

There are plenty of suspects. For instance, Philip Starling is Randall's pompous brother--a brother that Ranny has trusted with his financial affairs. Is it possible that Philip isn't as trustworthy as he seems and Celia found him out? Or maybe Caroline, Philip's wife, killed to protect her husband. Or Dell Bliss, Celia's sister who has always lived in the shadow of her more glamorous sibling. Everyone says Dell adores her sister. Is that really true? And then there's Judy Walnut--Blackie's nurse who has connections with Celia that no one ever knew.

Blackie is determined to find out the truth and it may all depend on Mimsy, Celia and Randall's six-year old daughter. Ever since the murder, Mimsy has been a changed girl in ways that speak to something deeper than grief. Once full of boundless energy and a mouth full of stories for her "Uncle Black," Mimsy is now a somber child who has lost her taste for stories and, more importantly, no longer wants anything to do with her beloved Babar--a toy elephant that has been her constant companion. Instead, she has latched onto Cupid, a reindeer for which she has previously had nothing but disdain. Black's boss at the hospital insists on sheltering the child, but Black is convinced that she has seen something important and if they can just find out what then the truth of that dreadful night will be revealed. His colleagues are amazed when he has a dollhouse installed in his office and brings Mimsy in to play house with him. But the story of the dollhouse may just lead to the true story of murder.

This was a delightful surprise from authors from whom I had never read anything before. The plot is competently rendered and I particularly enjoyed Black's interactions with Mimsy in his efforts to help her tell the story of what she saw on the night of the murder. Black is an interesting character--a large, almost clumsy doctor who obviously is more suited to psychology than the general practice (which he finally realizes at the end of the book). The rest of the characters are also well drawn and there are plenty of efforts to mislead the reader. An enjoyable mystery set during the war era. ★★

[Finished on 10/9/17]
This fulfills the "Furniture" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

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