Sunday, March 4, 2018

With Blood & Kisses

With Blood & Kisses (apa The Snark Was a Boojum; 1941) by Richard [Dora] Shattuck is a fun
romp. Golden "Sandy" Gate has traveled East to visit her father's people--against the advice of her mother who says, "Don't look up your father's people. They'll get you into trouble." But she can add nothing definite to this vague warning and Sandy winds up driving her Aunt Maud around the Massachusetts countryside on a nostalgic trip to visit all the places Maud and her husband Wilson Wilson (no, we didn't stutter) used to frequent. 

They wind up caught in a snow storm at house that seems to be just this side of a loony bin. It's filled to the brim with young pregnant women (and even the dog is pregnant) who all hope to produce the first heir in the Shilly family since good ol' Uncle Mortimer kicked the bucket. His will says that the first of his three nephews to produce a child with Shilly blood will inherit everything--leaving the others out in the cold. Everyone seems to have taken their frustration with this will out on the family lawyer, Ward McKay. And someone is especially put out and has been making attempts on the lawyer's life--even taking a potshot at him out the window when he, Aunt Maud, and Sandy try to leave the house in the car that's no longer there. It's been stolen by the youngest of the Shilly nephews (the only one young enough to definitely be out of the produce-an-heir stakes).

Then the news comes on the radio that a homicidal maniac has escaped and is roaming the countryside (just to add a little extra spice to the proceedings). Shortly thereafter Ward McKay is found dead--hanging from the ceiling in the front room. Sandy plays detective with Rodney Shilly--one of the nephews and the executor of Uncle Mortimer's estate--while Aunt Maud plays midwife to the expectant mothers. There's a suspicious butler named Daybreak, a superstitious cook, and a righteous veterinarian (who is only there to oversee the birthing of the Shilly puppies, not to take care of human babies, thank you) in the mix. There is much wandering around in the dark looking for clues and trying to hide evidence. And Aunt Maud talks a mile a minute and reminds me of the ladies in Arsenic & Old Lace. Rodney and Sandy do finally get the bottom of everything, manage to fall in love, and a good time is had by all--well except for the lawyer...and the murderer...and a few suspects who've been naughty in other ways.

If you're looking for a mystery where the clues are there for the taking and you can come to a nice, tidy conclusion right along with the detectives, then this isn't exactly what you're looking for. If you're looking for something along the lines of a screwball mystery movie plot of the 1930s or 40s, then have we got something for you! This is great fun. Aunt Maud steals the show and Sandy and Rodney have several romantic misunderstandings on their way to true love and a mystery well-solved. I did guess the culprit--but I definitely was going more by a hunch than by any evidence strewn about. A delightful, quick read. ★★

[Finished on 2/23/18]

You mean about the buggy tipping over? Well, Wilson thought I was hurt...and he put his arm around me and then of course he felt we must marry....I was dying to marry somebody; you know how young girls are. It was really very sweet, the whole thing. Just like some women's magazine; I'm sure you youngsters aren't half so romantic. ~Aunt Maud (p. 6)

AM: I had him cremated, we were in Naples at the time. and I brought the ashes home and had the briefcase made especially; we've never been separated since. Why, Sandy I thought you knew....Haven't you heard me talking to him all day?
SG: Well, yes, but--"
AM: Mercy, you didn't think I was talking to myself, did you? What an odd sort of person you must have thought me. ~Aunt Maud; Sand Gate (p. 7)

WM: It might interest you to know, Rodney, that another attempt has been made on my life
....he held out his hat for inspection, Sandy expected to hear him request that it be labeled "Exhibit A, for the people"
RS: If you ask me Ward, you've got a persecution complex.
...It took McKay a moment or two to recover his power of speech. "Persecution complex!" he yelled, then. "Persecution complex!" Dashing his hat to the floor, he danced up and down beside it, gibbering. ~Ward McKay; Rodney Shilly (p. 13)

Oh, well, you're a little weird yourself when it comes right down to it, running around looking for your uncle's ashes in a briefcase. What a cozy bunch of lunatics we are, to be sure. ~Rodney Shilly (p. 17)

Sandy thought, this is as much like the Mad Hatter's tea party as anything; at any moment the signal will be given and we'll all move one place to the right. (p. 18)

Mrs. Wilson, Miss Gate, will you excuse me? It seems McKay has been poisoned. Just keep right on with your dinner. ~Rodney Shilly (p. 19)

[Re: the escaped convict]
That would be Ruben Hubb. I'm just sure of it. They've kept him shut up at home for years, ever since he strangled the mailman; Rose wrote me about it. They had enough influence to keep him out of a public institution; they couldn't bear to have put away, of course. He used to be a strangler rather than a beheader, but I'm sure it's the same man. Under the circumstances, I think we had better stay the night, don't you, Golden dear? ~Aunt Maude (p. 21)

SG: Well, if the storm keeps up at least the maniac won't get here, will he?
RS: I don't suppose so, but then I don't know about maniacs. They're probably brimming with super-human strength. ~Sandy Gate; Rodney Shilly (p. 23)

Well might she be nervous about her hairpins, Sandy thought; you got the feeling that if they fell out, Maybelle would fall apart and dissolve into pink soapsuds before your eyes. (p. 26)

D: I was just clearing my throat, Sir. Begging your pardon, of course.
RS: Of course, well, next time you feel one of those hyena laughs in your throat, swallow it, don't clear it. ~Daybreak; Rodney Shilly (p. 31)

snow wasn't like rain, making a friendly tapping sound. Snow fell silently, it blanketed the world in silence; snowflakes were like the ghosts of raindrops, sadly haunting the air they remembered from a warmer incarnation. (p. 35)

Sleep in this house? Oh, no; it would be dangerous to expose the unconscious soul to the baleful influences at work here. Hatred the soul's black lover--the house was steeped in it. (p. 35)

Descending the hall stair, Sandy thought, I'm just like one of those nitwit heroines who go creeping around empty houses at night for no good reason and get strangled by homicidal maniacs. I ought to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my curly head and go to sleep. (p. 37)

Buttering bread, Sandy thought, I'm in love. If only I can get away before he finds out. Her normal self seemed to hover somewhere just above her left shoulder, watching with derision the changling Sandy who had fallen so idiotically in love under circumstances far from romantic. (p. 48)

What's the fun of having your virtue if you can't fight for it now and then? ~Sandy (78)

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