Monday, February 18, 2019

Where the Snow Was Red: Review

Where the Snow Was Red (1949) by Hugh Pentecost

Dr. John Smith, the leading criminal psychologist of the day, is spending what he hopes to be a quiet holiday at the home of Emily and Dan Sutter. Dan is a loud-mouthed drunk who doesn't know the meaning of work, so Emily has been forced to take in paying guests to make ends meet. They have a sixteen year old son, Bim, who does odd jobs for the town selectman, Rufe. He thinks the world of Rufe and wishes his father would just disappear.

Things are quiet until word comes that Terence Vail is returning home. Vail is a recent member of the community--but is a town favorite because of his generosity. Many worthy causes have had their needs met by a quickly written Vail check. And, of course, the village gossips love him and his wife. Susan Vail is a beauty and has nearly all the men in town at her beck and call. Roger Lindsey has been especially attentive while Terence has been away--initially because Terence had asked him to keep an eye on Susan, but later for more personal reasons. The tongues have been wagging--speculating on how far the romance has gone, wondering how Terence will react when he arrives, and resounding with resentment over the fact that Roger left Liz Holbrook cold when he took up with Susan. Susan's father, known for his temper, is none too pleased with Roger himself. 

All this is simmering under the surface when Terence arrives and a party is thrown in his honor. But you would think the party had been given for Susan. She winds up the center of attention--dancing and flirting with every man and making an even greater target for the gossip mongers. One wouldn't be surprised if she were to play the part of chief victim in our little drama. But...when a body is discovered, it isn't Susan but Terence who lies out in the gathering snow with red surrounding his bludgeoned head. Two more deaths will follow before the culprit is identified.

None of the local men are equipped for a homicide investigation, so when they discover that the unobtrusive Dr. Smith is a prominent criminal psychologist they enlist his help in unraveling the mystery. Since there really isn't a lot of physical evidence to be had, his insights into human nature become invaluable to the investigation--though he does overthink one bit of evidence that was actually quite obvious (to me, anyway). If the reader picks up on the meaning of that one key bit, then she will know right away who the killer is. But--trust me--that doesn't ruin the story. Pentecost writes very interesting and believable characters and he has turned out a first-class study of the characters of the small town. If he manages to slide that key bit of evidence by you, then there are motives and red herrings galore to keep the armchair detective busy. A quite enjoyable post-war detective story with an engaging cast--I particularly liked Dr. Smith and Rufe with Liz and her father coming in a close second. ★★★★



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