Sunday, April 1, 2018

About the Murder of Geraldine Foster: Review

About the Murder of Geraldine Foster (1930) is the first of the Thatcher Colt detective stories written by Charles Fulton Oursler under the name of Anthony Abbott. Colt is a New York Police Commissioner who can't stay out of the thick of things and leave the detective work to his officers--especially when the niece of one his oldest friends comes to his office for help. Betty Canfield is concerned because her roommate, Geraldine Foster has disappeared over the Christmas holidays. Of course, having seen the title of this book, you don't have to be a genius police commissioner to figure out that Geraldine Foster isn't coming back....

Colt's investigation introduces him to the various people in Geraldine's life--from her on-again, off-again fiance to her rather staid parents who can only keep repeating, "No matter what, Geraldine was a good girl" to her brother who runs off mysteriously to search for her to her employer Doctor Maskell, a seemingly cold man to whom Betty has taken an instant dislike. Colt is able, finally, to trace the movements of the missing girl, following her trail to a deserted house on Peddler's Road. The house has been the scene of a particularly gruesome murder--evidenced by an axe coated with blood and the bodies of dead pigeons. It doesn't take long to find the nude body of the missing girl, buried on the property with a pillowcase over her head.

Though there are several suspects, Colt and the D.A. quickly focus on one in particular. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence pointing his way and Colt decides to use third-degree to sweat a confession out of him. But the man is unbreakable. So Colt breaks out more unconventional methods--the brand-new lie detector and a dose of truth serum. Even these can't prove that they have the right suspect in custody and while the D.A. remains convinced of the man's guilt, convinced enough to take it to the Grand Jury, Colt begins to have his doubts and decides to go over the ground one more time. He discovers a plot even more diabolical than the grisly murder's initial details indicate.

This is an impressive first novel by an author I'd never read before. Thanks to John over at Pretty Sinister Books who sent me this novel as a prize from his blog I was able to get my first taste of Thatcher Colt. (Sorry it took me so long, John--but you know how that TBR stack keeps growing and pushing things further and further back...) It is comprised of a fairly complicated plot which seems to hinge on times--when exactly did Geraldine Foster die? Where were the suspects at the important times? But there is more here than meets the eye. An important clue is given fairly early, but it is hidden among what seems to be far more important issues and could easily be missed by even the most observant reader. I was lucky enough to be intrigued by something completely different in connection to the culprit and that is what led me to consider the actual clue. Of course, Thatcher Colt has long maintained that luck plays its part in good detective work, so I can still maintain my claim of detective prowess. ;-) The ending is quite good. The only thing that keeps this from being a five-star book is Colt's reliance on third-degree methods and there is a bit of him just "happening" to recognize certain clues that the ordinary person wouldn't--like the difference between two seemingly identical inks, for instance. He doesn't need to send that for analysis--he just knows they're different. Otherwise, a terrific whodunnit. ★★★★

Both TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time and dfordoom at Vintage Pop Fictions have also reviewed this novel. Please visit to see their views on Thatcher Colt's debut.

[Finished on 3/22/18]

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