Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Blue Geranium

 The Blue Geranium (1941) by Dolan Birkley (Dolores Hitchens)

Janet Cooper, diving instructor at the Hotel Quillan discovers the wealthy Nina Arkwright hacked to death in one of the women's dressing rooms at poolside. She doesn't immediately raise the alarm because she's afraid that the police will hone in on her beloved Joel Markham as prime suspect--especially since he said that Mrs. Arkwright deserved killing not two days before she wound up dead. [I'm not clear on what good she thought a delay would do....] When the janitor goes into the women's rooms to clean up, he finds Nina as well as a cheap green hat that the woman would never have worn a collection of newspaper clippings about an aviator who was lost as sea making a publicity flight in Arkwright's interests, and a broken flowerpot with the blue geranium that it housed--but no weapon. The ax that the killer wielded has disappeared. Only two people were seen leaving the pool area during the crucial period and neither of them could have concealed an ax about their person.

Janet's fears are realized after all those who knew Nina have been interviewed and there are indications--in addition to Joel's incriminating exclamation--that Joel might be the guilty party. It seems that it was likely that Nina was going to kick the scientist off her payroll at a plant where he had made some terrific discoveries. Captain Loring immediately arrests Joel on suspicion of homicide. But Joel doesn't seem worried.

"You'll want a lawyer, I suppose?" Loring said wryly. 

Joel shrugged. "Not right away. You wouldn't let me out anyhow. Take a day or two to find out you've made a mistake."

Janet isn't as confident as Joel and spends the rest of the book playing amateur detective. She blindly goes off to meet mysterious telegram-senders, eavesdrops on conversations, and devises a plan to trap the killer--all without getting herself bumped off in the process. Quite a feat, considering that the killer has no problem killing a second hotel guest with the missing ax when she discovers the secret of the blue geranium. But there are other mysteries to solve before the killer can be pinpointed--why did Nina arrange to have a dinner party with all black decorations--as if for funeral baked meats? Why did she come home late the previous night looking like she'd been in a brawl--with a black eye and bruises? Why did she insist on wearing a cheap green hat which wasn't her style and didn't match what she was wearing? 

This was a fun little mystery--not too difficult to spot the killer, though it took a bit more effort to figure out the exact motive. Janet did get a bit on my nerves towards the end--even after Joel was proved innocent (he was still cooling his heels in jail when the second murder occurred), she was going off on her own and keeping back information from the police. Captain Loring made it clear to her that he was on her side and she still didn't share things. She's fortunate that her meddling didn't get her into bigger trouble than it did. Pretty fairly clued. I didn't pick up on a crucial piece that would have helped with the motive. Very enjoyable.  ★★ and 1/2

First line: Janet felt the wind freshen as she mounted the ladder to the diving platform, but she was warmer because the sun reached her here.

I see I'm going to have to warn you against meddling. Don't think I'm sore on my own account. Amateurs usually play right into the hands of the police, as you did tonight. What I'm thinking of is your own safety. Suppose that telegram had been sent by someone who decided it shouldn't be known at any cost? [Captain Loring; pp. 69-70]

If you're thinking of blackmailing this person you suspect of killing Nina, you'd better give up the idea. Murderers don't blackmail well, from what I've read. [Janet Cooper; p. 73]

Only God understands a woman's mind, Miss Cooper. Begging your pardon for saying it. [Loring; p. 124]

I'm beginning to think that the people in this thing wouldn't know the truth if they met it out walking. [Loring; p. 145]

Last line: It was then, and at last, that she knew the fearful part was over.

Deaths = 4 (two hit with axe; one airplane accident; one fell from height)

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