Saturday, December 11, 2021

Reprint of the Year: Odor of Violets

 For the last several years, Kate at Cross Examining Crime has been rounding up the vintage mystery bloggers and having us perpetuate her brilliant brainstorm (one of many that she has had). In the wake of various publishing houses recognizing the virtues of Golden Age (and more recent) vintage crime novels through reprint editions of both well-known and more obscure titles, Kate thought those of us who love those vintage mysteries would like the chance to feature the year's reprints and make a pitch for our favorites to be voted Reprint of the Year. We loved the idea so much that we keep coming back for more.

The first of my two choices is Odor of Violets (1940) by Baynard Kendrick and reprinted this year by American Mystery Classics. It is the third in his series featuring Captain Duncan Maclain and the first of those books that I ever read. When I saw it on the list of 2021 reprints, I knew I wanted to revisit it. 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--especially hearing and smell. He also depends on two German Shepherd dogs--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.

This book finds Maclain working for the US Secret Service in the early days of WWII prior to America's entry into the war. Germany isn't taking the American neutrality for granted and has spies at work preparing to sabotage vital cities. They just need to get their hands on vital information about vulnerable points (the location of the city's power shut-off points, for example)--information that has been delivered to Maclain in a coded Braille message. But that's not all! Nazi spies are also trying to get information on a brand-new bomb sight that has been developed by Gilbert Tredwell. Life gets interesting when an actor-turned Secret Serviceman is killed with a poker (a man who just happened to have been the ex-husband of Mrs. Tredwell); Barbara Tredwell (daughter of the house) disappears--possibly kidnapped; and Bella Slater, the Tredwell's upstairs maid who isn't exactly what she seems, is killed with a very sharp battle axe. Maclain will have to follow the scent of violets if he is going to find the spies responsible for the deaths and who are behind the plot against America's cities.

my copy
Loved this mystery thriller starring a blind private eye the first time I read it (2018). His heightened abilities (other senses) are much more believable than those of Max Carrados (a blind detective who first appeared in 1914) and I like him better. Where Carrados's ability to smell spirit gum and to read newsprint by touch seem more like parlor tricks, Maclain's abilities are explained through careful training and his reliance on his guide dogs. The book is an interesting combination of spy thriller and classic mystery. There are definitely clues to be followed and the sharp reader will spot those that identify the killer. Unlike many classic detective stories, the motive is never an issue--the motive is simply spycraft. The spies are Nazis and out to do their worst. 

This was a great choice for a reread and for my first entry in the reprint award stakes. Maclain is a terrific character and I like the way he interacts with his assistants--both human and canine. And Kendrick absolutely makes the reader believe that Maclain can do all things it says he can do without feeling like she is reading about someone with superpowers.  Please be sure to vote for Kendrick!

First line: The Crags was built high up on an eminence above the little town of Tredwill Village, west of Hartford, in the Connecticut hills.

When a clever killer has started to work the end is never in sight. (Captain Maclain; p. 125)

Last line: Where I heard it, or where I got it, I can't tell you, Colonel, but the odor of violets is that madman's favorite perfume!

Deaths = one hit on head; 5 suffocated [Sandy, Slim, Denny, Cupie, & Mac plus others unnamed]; one decapitated


J F Norris said...

I have many of the Duncan Maclain books but have only read The Whistling Hangman and The Last Express both of which I own in the fabulous Dall mapback editions. I've been meaning to do a "Neglected Detectives" piece on the Maclain mysteries for years now. Maybe I'll be able to get one up for 2022. I was so happy to see that this book made Penzler's reprint series. He's finally choosing writers and characters worth reprinting. Unlike many of his other choices the Kendrick books aren't very easy to come by at all and haven't been reprinted to death like Rinehart and Eberhart and Van Dine.

Bev Hankins said...

John: I have the pictured Mapback version of this one--didn't buy the reprint for this Reprint of the Year Award. Odor of Violets was the first Kendrick book I read. It's still the best one in my estimation.

Kate said...

I like how your choice of book this week colour coordinates with the curtains in your post voting booth image!
I am planning on reading this book next month, so it is great to see it have such a strong write up here.

Bev Hankins said...

Kate--yes, I absolutely chose Violets because it matched the curtains. LOL. And next week's book sortof matches the brown tones. :-)