Sunday, December 15, 2019

Death Knell

Death Knell (1945) by Baynard Kendrick features Kendrick's series detective, Captain Duncan Maclain. Maclain is a private detective who lost his sight due to gassing in the First World War. He has gone through extensive training to help him enhance his other senses--particularly hearing and smell. He also has to German Shepherds to help him--one acting as his guide dog in unfamiliar settings and the other serving as protection, having been trained to attack at the sight of weapons or threatening movements on the part of others. Kendrick based his character on a young blind soldier that he met in the war, who was able to trace Kendrick's four years in the army by touching emblems on his uniform.* The soldier's accurate deductions based on touch alone mad such an impression on Kendrick that it helped him develop a most interesting sleuth.

In this, the fifth installment in the series, Maclain becomes involved more personally in the investigation than has previously been the case. The story opens with Maclain and his fiancee at a cocktail party in luxury apartment of Lamar and Lucia Jordan, friends of Maclain's fiancee. Maclain meets the various characters who will soon be involved in an impossible murder. Impossible, if you believe (as Maclain does) that Lamar Jordan is innocent of the crime. [But I get ahead of myself.] Jordan's household and guests include his agent, Sarah Hanley; Bob Morse, a man working up a feature on Lamar for his newspaper; Paul Hirst, his secretary; and his friend Ellis Brown Mitchell who is helping him catalogue his huge gun collection. Maclain has already picked up on undercurrents that indicate that all is not well when Troy Singleton shows up--unexpected, but waving an unsigned invitation. Troy is "mistress number thirteen or is it number twenty-four?" Lamar and Lucia each accuse the other of having invited the girl in order to cause a scene and when Troy doesn't get the attention she feels she deserves, she storms out.

...Only to come back when Lamar is alone in the apartment to tell him that she has one last thing to say to him and that he might benefit if he listens to her. He tells her to go out on the balcony while he mixes a couple of drinks. As he heads out to join her, he watches Troy slump down and when he reaches her he finds a small bullet hole. But there's no one else in the who shot her?

Suddenly maddened, he tore through the privet hedge and leaned over the stone coping. There was nothing there, of course, except a drop of six stories, and another terrace below.

The angle of the shot will later reveal that it came from close in front of her--so it's not possible that someone in the building opposite could have killed her. So...naturally when the cops arrive they believe they've got the killer right there in front of them in Lamar Jordan. Maclain, who is called upon by his fiancee and Lucia to prove Jordan innocence, sets out to prove Jordan's story true.

The Duncan Maclain series is highly enjoyable. This is just my second outing, but I'm definitely on the lookout for more when I go book-hunting. The only down-side to this one was that I spotted immediately how the thing was done--which pretty much pointed to the who. I think Kendrick brought up a certain fact just a few times too much, if he'd slyly slid it in front of the reader and then ignored it, I might not have caught on. Maybe a too much fair play? But, that said, since this mystery takes on a more personal note, it gave us a good deal more insight into Maclain and the regular characters who appear with him. A good solid read. ★★

Deaths = 2 (one shot; one stabbed)
Mystery Bingo: Stairs; 2nd Gun/Knife; Barking dog

*Info source:

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