Saturday, February 8, 2020

Spin Your Web, Lady!

DJ--not mine, unfortunately
Murder is a strange thing, Mr. Burden. A strange action. A hard thing to understand, naturally, for most of us. I've seen a good deal of it, you see. I don't know that I understand it. But usually, it seems to me, a man or woman who murders is reluctant. Isn't happy about it, wishes there were some other way out and can't find the other way out. There is another way, naturally. But the murderer can't find it. If he could, he'd be glad to take it. You see what I mean?....But the one who killed this girl perhaps wasn't like that. You say she was hated. That's a very good word. Hated so much that the murderer enjoyed killing her. [Captain Heimrich]

Spin Your Web, Lady! (1949) by Frances & Richard Lockridge is an early entry (#3) in their series featuring Captain Heimrich and the first to feature him in a huge way. We begin the story with John Burden who is making his first trip back to the countryside in New York since his wife was killed by a drunk driver. He sold their home and buried himself in work in NYC. His friends Ed & Fee Woodring had encouraged him to visit them and he finally feels like he can face the quiet country nights again. 

But the country doesn't stay quiet for long. Ed and Fee take him out for dinner at a place that has opened since he headed to the city. But he never does get dinner. They run into a young woman sitting at the bar who seems to have the power to make all her acquaintances (I don't think she has any friends) fall in with her wishes. John is amazed to watch the forthright, opinionated Ed toe the line when Prudence "Prue" Gaillard says that of course he and Fee and their guest will join the party. A lot of drinks are consumed and John realizes pretty quickly that everyone in Prue's party at least dislikes her if not downright hates her and...fears her in some way he doesn't understand. Everyone from Ed to Prue's twin brother Danny to Dorothy (Dot) Ford to war hero Vince Odlum to Mary Lou Laney to Bill Cunningham.

Danny Gaillard spends the evening getting drunker than anybody and more combative with his sister. John hears whispers that Dot (to whom he has become instantly attracted) and Vince are couple--well, at least they were until Prue decided she wanted to annex the war hero. Mary Lou used to be an item with Danny, but something went sour with that...and John suspects Prue had something to do with that as well. Bill Cunningham for some inexplicable reason loves Prue with a faithfulness that puts her sheepdog Woof to shame. There are currents running under the surface that John can't understand. 

Early the next morning (after the party moves to another restaurant--still no dinner--and finally to the Gaillard's house--where there are finally sandwiches), word reaches the Woodring home that Prudence has been found murdered. Murdered in the most vicious manner--strangled with wire and hung up in a net of vines on the terrace of the house, looking for all the world like something caught in a spider's web. Only from all the hatred and fear centered on the woman, it seems she was the spider caught in her own trap.

Captain Heimrich arrives on the scene and begins sifting through those who hated Prue Gaillard. Looking for reasons why they feared her and felt like they had to do what she wanted. He gives them room to make mistakes...and making one of his own before finding a way to make the killer reveal him/herself. 

This early Heimrich novel has many of the elements that make the series enjoyable. Good characters and interesting character interactions. Heimrich doing his best, naturally, to make the character fit the crime and make the culprit uncomfortable enough to make mistakes and flush them into the open. I will say that the final scene where he gathers all the suspects into one room and says he's going to keep them all there until he finds out what he wants to know felt a little forced. The suspects start talking--but why? In most of the books where he uses this strategy there is (as he loves to say) a catalyst, something that gets the ball rolling. But this time, there wasn't. They just start talking--maybe because they couldn't take the silence anymore, but, as mentioned, it felt forced.

I'm still glad that I was able to get hold of this fairly rare book (in great condition) and have a chance to read it. Not the all-time best in the series, but still an enjoyable read. ★★

My copy

Spoiler: I was quite sure with the way Danny's drunken driving kept being a thing that it would wind up that he actually caused the accident that killed John Burden's wife--throwing suspicion on Burden as well. I didn't think Burden would wind up being the killer (it's a pretty sure bet in a Lockridge book that if two people--in this case Burden and Dorothy--show a romantic interest in each other then they didn't do it), but I did expect some sort of suspicion to attach itself to him. I wasn't expecting the twist on Danny's drunken driving episode that we did get

Calendar of Crime: January (Author [Frances] DOB)
Deaths = 3 (two strangled; one shot)

First line: The train moved like an inch worm.
Last line: "Or wherever you want to go, I guess," she said. "Wherever you want to go."

No comments: