Friday, March 25, 2022

The Cat Saw Murder

 The Cat Saw Murder (1939) by D. B. Olsen/Dolores Hitchens

The first in a series of "cat" mysteries, featuring Miss Rachel Murdock, our intrepid amateur sleuth. Miss Rachel has always enjoyed reading mysteries, but has never, in her 70-odd years been involved in anything the least bit mysterious. Then one day she and her sister Jennifer receive a phone call from their niece Lily Stickleman. She sounds frightened and asks if her aunts can come and help her with some "trouble"--but won't elaborate over the phone. Miss Jennifer is a homebody and doesn't want to venture a small California beach town, so Miss Rachel sets out with their cat Samantha (who won't eat if Miss Rachel isn't there) to see what's up with Lily.

Miss Rachel knows Lily's flaws--she likes to be all mysterious and coy about her affairs; she's probably in need of money; and she isn't the most honest or intelligent young woman--but she's family and Miss Rachel knows her duty. When she gets to boarding house (and what a run-down, ramshackle place it is!), Lily, as expected, goes all coy. Trouble? Oh, well, it wasn't really much. And she's sorry she dragged "Dear Auntie" all the way down here for nothing. But she's so glad to see "Dear Auntie!"  Eventually Lily drops enough hints that Miss Rachel is sure that it's the same old trouble men and/or money. But before she can really get Lily to share everything, Miss Rachel is drugged with morphia and Lily is brutally murdered. She winds up working with Detective Lieutenant Mayhew to discover what the near-poisoning and then bathing of Samantha, Lily's gambling debts, the missing Mr. Malloy, and the boarding house's attic have to do with the murder.

In this first mystery with Miss Rachel, I feel like Hitchens had some falls along the way, but overall, like the titular cat, she nearly always managed to land on her feet. Our spunky heroine (Miss Rachel...not Samantha) is just getting the hang of this amateur detective business, so she doesn't spot clues quite as quickly as she has in the two books I've read previously, but she does know when Mayhew is going astray. He is all set to arrest someone (twice!) and she manages to convince him that the solution still isn't quite right. She might have come to the final conclusion as soon as I did (yes, I did spot the murderer before Miss Rachel)...if she had been privy to all the mentions of a certain something that the reader was. 

I do find it amazing that a 70-something old woman (whom we have no evidence of having been particularly active/physically strong) can climb about in the attic crawl space and up and down through attic access points in the various rooms. Her two nights of such ramblings make me tired and I'm a good twenty years younger....And things get quite exciting at the end when she and Mayhew make a mad-dash car chase to prevent the murderer from polishing off one more victim. A good solid beginning to a series that I have enjoyed (as I'm able to find titles...). ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Detective Lieutenant Stephen Mayhew has been heard to complain that the murder of the Stickleman woman was the damnedest case he ever met up with; that solving the thing was like working a
jigsaw puzzle upside down and backward; that it got progressively worse as it dragged along; and that it set him at such insane tasks as pulling hairs out of Miss Rachel's cat and forcing a timid fat woman to scream.

Last line: But Miss Rachel had no answer for that one.


Deaths = 4 (one beaten to death; one stabbed; one auto accident; one fell from height)

For the Monthly Motif Challenge prompt (Buzzed About Books)--this one saw a lot of talk among Golden Age Detective Fans last fall. It was nominated for our annual "Reprint of the Year award."

1 comment:

Kate said...

I enjoyed this one more than you, but I agree that the sleuth is a fallible one. I think I did manage to get ahead of the sleuth, noticing one particular part of someone's alibi, which sounded suspicious. I hope AMC reprint more of these books, as I think that is the only way I will get to try them!