Sunday, November 26, 2017

Trial by Terror: Review

We imagine that people have only one reason for things they do. So often, you know, they have several. Sometimes they even have reasons which seem to contradict one another.
~Captain Heimrich

Trial by Terror (1952), which was originally published as Death by Association (under which title I read this many moons ago from the library), is the sixth book in Frances and Richard Lockridge's series featuring Captain Merton Heimrich of the New York State Police. Heimrich is a fish out of water down in Key West where he has been sent to complete his recuperation from a gunshot wound received in a previous adventure. He arrives at The Coral Isles resort along with Dr. Barclay MacDonald who is also recovering--in his case from a car accident. Close on their heels is Mary Wister, who has been sent to this resort (among others) to "do pictures" to go along with text for "a thing" that several resort hotels want to do as advertisement.

The three find themselves enmeshed in a web of mystery when Bronson Wells, famous communist denouncer, is killed. Wells is connected to a Senator Joseph McCarthy type and he may have been on the verge of denouncing a few of his fellow vacationers--such as Judge Sibley who is being considered for a U.N. appointment and who might not be considered for the appointment if he's found to have communist connections. Or Bill Olsen, the pianist, who might not get near as many engagements if Wells has negative things to say about him. Or even MacDonald--whose brother was driven to suicide because of insinuations made by Wells. Of course, they aren't the only ones who might have wanted Wells out of the way. His associate, Paul Shephard doesn't seem too happy with him and Rachel Jones, the investigative reporter who had some tense moments with Wells the night before, has mysteriously disappeared. And then there's Garcia, a local musician who knew Wells long before he was famous, long before he was actually known by the name of Wells, and who doesn't have particularly fond memories of the man who ruined his sister.

Heimrich, though out of his territory, is drawn into the case when Mary discovers Wells's body when she goes out early in the morning to make sketches for her ad campaign. She can't say exactly what made her look among the small trees that made a thick hedge along the tennis courts. She just did. And noticed a bit of a man's dinner shirt. Upon investigation, it was a man's dinner shirt. Bronson Wells's dinner shirt to be exact; stained with blood where he'd been stabbed. She runs up to the hotel to summon help and Heimrich is the first person she sees. It doesn't take long for him to determine that Wells has been dead for some time and when the local police arrive he "naturally"* assists in every way he can. His assistance causes such problems for the murderer that he is attacked in dark outside the hotel--stabbed in his wounded shoulder (naturally). But it's Heimrich's dedication to "make the character fit the crime" that finally identifies the culprit and allows him to set a trap to catch the killer.

I'm not normally a fan of mysteries that take the detective out of their normal habitat, so to speak. For example Nero Wolfe stories that take him out of the brownstone? Generally not my favorite. But this story that follows Heimrich to Florida is well done. Great descriptions of the area and the Lockridges use the political of the 1950s to great effect. They also play Heimrich's busman's holiday crime solving with just the right touch. Obviously, he's out of his jurisdiction, but he can't help but notice the characters and actions of his fellow resort guests. There are clues to be had, albeit slight and it's possible for them to slip on by with no notice, but the astute reader could get to Heimrich's solution. This--less astute--reader didn't, but it didn't mar my enjoyment. ★★★★

[Finished on 11/21/17]

*Fans of the Heimrich  stories will recognize this tribute to one of his signature phrases.

~Oh--and that cover? Not quite accurate--the hedge of trees was so thick that they had great difficulty getting to the body. She definitely couldn't step right through like that. And--I just now realize that they didn't adequately explain how the murderer got the body in there in the first place....

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