Monday, April 17, 2023

Death Demands an Audience

 Death Demands an Audience (1940) by Helen Reilly

The shoppers who window-shop along Fifth Avenue have gotten used to stopping by the window displays of Garth & Campbell's store. There's always something new and interesting every week--from a centaur carrying a mannequin wrapped in an insufficient white tunic to a lair of ermine and mink to a jeweled dagger and exquisite jade green gauntlets lying artistically on a bench in front of a summer sea scene. The expensive and exciting are always on display. But when a new display rises unexpectedly one afternoon, the inquisitive crowd doesn't expect to see a murder scene. Sprawled before a very life-like mannequin in a beautiful gown is the body of man with very real blood trickling from his mouth.

One of Inspector McKee's men, a non-descript little detective by the name of Todhunter, just happens to be in the crowd outside. He spies the original model of the mannequin in the crowd (one Judith Borrow) and instinct tells him to follow her after she stares at the scene for a moment and then heads away with an air of determination. She'll lead him on a merry chase to the home of the murdered man...where both she and Todhunter will be knocked out by a mysterious assailant. The dead man is her father and he had told her if anything ever happened to him that she should go to his house and retrieve a dispatch case hidden there. But someone got to the case before she did. Todhunter and McKee will have to figure out what was in that case in order to solve the case of the display window murder.

Somehow, the murder of Franklin Borrow, late of the store's display department, connects to the Cambridge family who live outside New York City. Borrow had asked for an appointment that night with Luke Cambridge, eldest of the clan, but Cambridge claims that he didn't know what the man wanted. Then Luke Cambridge makes an appointment to see the daughter Judith, but is poisoned before he can meet with her. It begins to look like making appointments is an unhealthy practice. Most of the Cambridge family and entourage--Luke's brother Gregory and his wife Irene; their children Ellen and Leslie; Ellen's fiance Toby Newell;  and Leslie's wife Muriel are all acting suspiciously. And then there's Michael Savage who claims to love Judith but who seems determined to make her angry. McKee has quite a collection of characters to sort before he'll find the culprit.

In general, I enjoy the early McKee stories. They are more mystery and police procedural than the latter novels which tend to veer towards suspense. My one complaint here is that McKee makes a huge error after Luke's murder--one that I can't believe an inspector of his quality made. He leaves suspects alone in the room where Luke has been murdered. There has been no proper search of the room or the desk. He notices that drawers are pulled out. It doesn't seem to occur to him that there might be things that the police need to know about on or in the desk. Later, he goes back in the room and notices that the drawers are different--those pulled out are in and others are out. Gee--you think the suspects had a nice little search? There's no way to know if a certain item that winds up missing was taken by the suspects he left in the room with no supervision--but there's also no way to know that it wasn't. Since when do we NOT seal murder scenes and keep suspects out? 

But, if we forgive McKee this blunder, then this is a clever police procedural with an interesting twist at the end. Reilly's police procedurals are appealing because they aren't dry, "just the facts, ma'am" stories. McKee is an interesting detective and Todhunter is growing on me (I wasn't too impressed with him in the first book I read with him in it (Compartment K). Their cooperative effort is very good in this one. ★★ and 1/2.

*One thing to note: I have no idea what's going on with the cover of my edition. There are no ghosts. There are no mentions of ghosts. No cemeteries feature in the story. 

First line: At four fifty-three o'clock on the afternoon of January 11th dusk was coming down over the city.

"The gun is gone. It's difficult to check on what you haven't got." (Inspector McKee; p. 63)

A gun floating around in a murder case was something he wasn't fond of. A weapon that had killed once had a nasty habit of going off again. (p. 63)

Last line: McKee got out, mounted the stairs, and called the commissioner and District Attorney Dwyer.


Deaths = 4 (two shot; one natural; one poisoned)

No comments: