Monday, February 21, 2022

Midsummer Nightmare

 Midsummer Nightmare
(1945) by Christopher Hale (Frances Moyer Ross Stevens)

Olivia Warburton is the confidential secretary to Sybrand Jennesma, senior of two brothers who own the Jennesma furniture factory. Sybrand and his brother Gerrit are looking to branch out into the automobile industry. Gerrit, the inventor in the family, is developing a new, smaller engine that will conserve fuel in this war-time era. They have invited the influential Senator North to inspect the work so far in the hopes that he will advise a major investor to take the plunge and finance their endeavors. 

Olivia and her assistant Winifred Leslie are living in a cottage on the Jennesma estate. There's quite a crowd of people (future suspects) milling about the estate. There's Sybrand's wife Myrtilla, the Jennesma's sister Hilda Peradine and husband number four, Eddie, Dirk Adams--manager of the Jennesma factory, Jason Kimball who handles publicity for the Jennesma furniture business, Jerrold Corbin--one of Hilda's ex-husbands who still holds out hope of inheriting something should dear old Hilda pass on, and Tillie, faithful servant to the Jennesmas who can't stand the sight of anyone who isn't family.

All is going smoothly with the Senator's visit until the Jennesma brothers begin receiving threatening notes. The anonymous writer claims that the brothers have stolen the engine idea and demands that they share any wealth...or else. But when they refuse to follow instructions about placing an ad in the paper (to indicate their willingness) they aren't the immediate target. The first victim in this murderous nightmare is their sister Hilda and the circumstantial evidence points to Olivia. Senator North has fallen hard for the young woman and is determined to prove her innocent...and he'll plow through Lieutenant Bill French of the State Police to do so, if necessary. More deaths follow and though the net still tightens round Olivia, there's plenty more suspicion to go around. Winnie (Winifred) is acting strangely, Dirk can't explain certain activities, and Eddie seems to have been up to no-good--burning something in the bathroom (possibly a missing will?). 

This really was an unexpected delight. The book is set in a fictional area just outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is an area I'm fairly well acquainted with as we traveled through that part of the state quite often on visits to my maternal grandmother in White Cloud (north of Grand Rapids). Hale does a good job describing the area and made me feel like I was on familiar ground. She also introduces some very interesting characters--the double romance storyline was well-done, considering that she brought the two couples together fairly quickly. And I was glad to see the relationships sorted out satisfactorily. The plot is a good one--I almost got the right answer, but didn't take my ideas quite far enough. The plotting was so well done that I'm going to be on the hunt for more Lt. French novels. ★★★★

First line: There was the sort of stillness in the air that often comes with a magnificent full moon.

Last line: After all, there would be moments that would require compensations, and it was well this would be one. 


Deaths = 3 (one stabbed; one poisoned; one hit on head)


Kate said...

New author to me and it is great to hear that he is a good one too!

Bev Hankins said...

Yes, this was a new author for me as well. I was glad that it turned out so well.

Laura said...

Love those character names!