Saturday, April 20, 2019

Murder at the Mardi Gras

Murder at the Mardi Gras (1947) by Elisabet M. Stone

Maggie Slone, a reporter for New Orleans' leading afternoon daily newspaper, is assigned to cover the Mardi Gras festivities for the first carnival since the lifting of Prohibition. It is a wild night--even more so than usual with everyone toasting the end of the long dry spell. Hopping from one night spot to another, she finds herself at the famous Le Coq d'Or cafe and a witness to a grand dust-up among a group at an adjoining table. It is obvious that the trouble revolves around a femme fatale type. Gaston, the cafe's owner, has been sharing a drink with Maggie and he declares the woman to be a bad one.

No, I don't really know them. But I do know her kind. she is bad. Bad through and through. She is evil, M'selle. All evil.... [Maggie protests that the woman is lovely.] Lovely? Not at all, M'selle. To be sure she is of great beauty, but it is a cold hotness of beauty which puts into a man a devil which may drive him mad.

Next day, Maggie is sent out to cover a suicide by gas and Gaston is proven correct for one of the men, who had shown himself madly obsessed with love for Nita, is the dead man. Maggie sees a chance for a scoop and quickly writes up the story with an angle on Nita. Who is this mystery woman? And where has she disappeared to while her lover did away with himself? That last question is answered just a few hours later when Nita is found strangled to death. 

Maggie's nose for news tells her that there is a connection between the two deaths and she sets out to beat the police and rival reporters to the story. She is spurred to even greater efforts when a young girl--who had promised Maggie a secret about Nita's death--is attacked and hospitalized. The reporter's zeal for a good story and her ambition to show up the cops lead her straight into trouble and cause her to jump to a few unhealthy conclusions. Unlike many amateur detective novels, Maggie doesn't wind up showing the police how to do their jobs. She almost gets the right answer...but it's the police who get their man in the end.

Stone plays havoc with the amateur "girl detective" trope of the 30s and 40s. No nicely brought up young lady, she. She fights with her mother, is exasperated with her sisters, and regularly flouts the house rules. Maggie Slone may be a lone girl reporter in a sea of male newshounds, but she's no Beverly Gray*. She's foul-mouthed and fiery-tempered and it's a wonder she ever gets a story out of anyone. She apparently solved a murder in a previous novel--but here she digs up all sorts of clues and manages to put the wrong spin on them. So, she's definitely not infallible. 

I'm in two minds about this one. On the one hand, the mystery is well done. I totally missed a clue displayed for all the world to see early on. It's hidden in plain sight so nicely that I doubt many would catch on. But...I found Maggie to be a distraction as a lead character. Her personality is a little too much and it really detracts from the story itself--especially for the period in which it is set and was written. I don't necessarily want a mousy little girl detective--but Maggie seems to want to out-drink and out-swear the boys without any real reason given for her behavior. It's not as if the men around her are constantly telling her not to try and make it in a man's world. The only blow-back she gets is from her friends (and one man who'd like to be more than a friend) that she's putting herself in too much danger. Which--she is. ★★ for a good, solid mystery.

*Beverly Gray is a standard girl detective cast in the mold of Nancy Drew and Judy Bolton and others. Middle to upper middle class and with a nice, solid family life. She starts out her detective career in college and later takes on a job as a reporter--solving mysteries along the way.

All Challenges Fulfilled: Just the Facts, Mount TBR Challenge, Birth Year Challenge, Craving for Cozies, Cruisin' Thru the Cozies, Cloak & Dagger, Print Only, Strictly Print Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Outdo Yourself, How Many Books, Medical Examiner, Charity Challenge
Deaths = 4 (one gassed/poisoned; one strangled; one stabbed; one shot)
Calendar = Other February Holiday (Mardi Gras was in February in 1934)

1 comment:

J.G. said...

Sounds like this one is a good combination of an interesting (if not altogether likable) protagonist and some good writing. I like that "cold hotness" description -- it's a little gem dropped into a character's otherwise fairly ordinary speech. Such an interesting era, too.