Saturday, December 16, 2023

Blind Man's Bluff

 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.

My second choice for the 2023 Awards is Blind Man's Bluff (1943) by Baynard Kendrick. Synopsis [from the book]: The Miners Title and Trust is typically dead quiet, having gone bankrupt. Then late one evening, the bank's blind president, Blake Hadfield, plummets eight stories to his death in the building's lobby. The only witnesses are the security guard and Blake's estranged wife, who were both on the first floor. Blake's son, Seth, is found drunk and dazed on the eighth floor, making him a suspect if the president's death wasn't suicide. That's when Harold Lawson and Sybella Ford call upon Captain Maclain for help. 

And, yes, I know I say "Vote for..." on every single reprint that I nominate for the ROY Awards. But I really mean it this time. Blind Man's Bluff is the best Kendrick mystery I've read so far* and is absolutely deserving of your vote. If you want an unusual detective, Kendrick's got that. Captain Duncan Maclain was blinded during WWI and has spent years working on methods to help him navigate in a world of darkness and to strengthen his other senses in realistic ways to help compensate for his lack of sight. He also has two dogs to help him--one to serve as a guide and the other to serve as a guard/protector. Drieste is highly trained, is fearless under fire, and will attack anyone who thinks of threatening Maclain. To add to this interesting set-up for a detective, in this mystery, Kendrick has thrown in a bonus. Not only is our detective blind, but so is one of our first victims.

 If you like impossible crimes, then Kendrick's got that too. Here we have a string of deaths that the upper levels of the police have called suicides. Beginning with a man who apparently shot at Blake Hadfield and merely blinded him before turning the pistol upon himself and followed by a string of victims who plunged to their deaths from great heights. With no one around to push them or help them over the balcony or out the window. Even though his superiors believe in suicide, Lieutenant Davis doesn't and he's all set to figure out how Seth Hadfield, Blake's son, managed to kill not only his father, but a shyster lawyer and the nightwatchman at Blake Hadfield's office building. When the friends of Seth's mentioned above call on Maclain to clear the young man and discover the truth, he agrees with Davis that it's murder--but he has a different killer in mind. All he has to do is figure out how someone could "push" men off the edge without being anywhere near the buildings.

"We're dealing with a strange criminal, gentlemen, a murderer who kills for change, fountain pens, and paperweights, a lowerer of blinds on the eighth floor of a building who cuts the lowering cord entirely off so that the Venetian blind can never be raised again."

If you not only like an impossible crime, but an ingenious method for accomplishing it then once again, Kendrick's got you covered. It's both ingenious and terrifying. And he plays fair with the reader. The clues are all there waiting for the observant armchair detective to pick them up and put them together for a clever solution. I'll just go ahead and confess...I wasn't observant or clever enough. I did spot the killer, but that wasn't because I picked up the right clues. It was based on behavior and my impressions of the person from the moment they walked onstage. And I certainly couldn't have told you how they did it. ★★★★

 And if you need more encouragement to vote for Kendrick, then check out Brad's review earlier this year at Ah Sweet Mystery. He may not have Blind Man's Bluff on his nomination list for the ROY, but he certainly did enjoy it!

*Have read Death Knell, The Odor of Violets (twice), Out of Control, and the novella The Murderer Who Wanted More.

First line: Julia Hadfield cleared the dishes away from the drop-leaf table laid for three and stacked her own in the sink against the coming of her part-time maid in the morning.

"We have to break it, Davis. There is no such thing as a perfect crime." Duncan Maclain (p. 89)

Last line: "Why the hell don't you marry me?"


Deaths = 4 (one shot; three fell from height)


Kate said...

I found this to have something of a different style to Odor of Violets which I read first.

Bev Hankins said...

Yes, it is a bit different. Odor of Violets has that whole spy theme going on. This is more of a traditional mystery. that may be why I like it better.

Kate said...

I agree and as a rule I should have enjoyed the traditional styled mystery more, but in fact I liked Odor of Violets much more. Perhaps there was a hint of Inspector French in Blind Man's Bluff, which put me off a little.