Sunday, April 21, 2024

Figure Away

 Figure Away (1937) by Phoebe Atwood Taylor

The town of Billingsgate is getting ready to celebrate "Old Home Week" and planning to clean up on the tourist trade as visitors flood in for a taste of a quaint old town. They've lined up all the journalists and a radio station and a well-known singer and all sorts of public dignitaries to attend and see the glory of Billingsgate. Town officials hope that it will bring in enough surplus to put the town back in the black and have enough left over to pave roads and support schools and all the other things that have been neglected. But it seems that someone doesn't want Old Home Week to succeed. They tried to set the Town Hall on fire. They've stolen the official town keys--"every last one of them." They sawed through the grandstand supports. And they've taken potshots at the town's selectmen. And after every shot the victims have heard an eerie laugh floating in the night air.

Selectman Weston Mayhew asks his cousin Asey Maho, New England's answer to Sherlock Holmes, to spend the week in Billingsgate to act as temporary chief of police, State Police liaison, and private eye all rolled into one. Everyone knows how good a detective Asey is, so surely that will stop the saboteur in his tracks. does put a stop to the wanton destruction, but it doesn't stop murder. Mary Randall, owner of the local antique shop, gets word to Asey that she wants to talk to him about something, but when he arrives at her place, he finds her shot to death. Did she know something about who was behind the Old Home Week sabotage and the culprit wanted to prevent her telling? Or is there a more prosaic motive for her murder? After all, Mary Randall knew quite a bit about the secrets of Billingsgate and had a few of her own. There's the life insurance policy leaving a large amount of cash to her goddaughter (who definitely needs the money). There's the henpecked husband who has an eye for the ladies and doesn't want his wife to find out. There's the soprano who seems to attract all the men and the painter whose politics ruffles everyone's feathers. And there's the General whose love for fireworks allowed the noise of the shotgun to go unremarked. Asey has quite a bit of sleuthing to do before he'll be able to find the killer and save Billingsgate's status as a quaint old town.

I don't know if Covid-brain is still in play or what, but I had a really difficult time following Asey's conversations in this one. I've read several of Taylor's Asey Mayo mysteries in the past and I don't remember him being quite so cryptic. There were whole passages where I felt like I was missing about half the conversation. The mystery itself is good--nicely complicated with plenty of suspects running around. I was all set to buy into a certain person, but then Taylor gave things a bit of a shake at the end to show why it couldn't be them. Nice surprise ending. Would have rated it higher if I hadn't felt so out of touch with our hero throughout. ★★

First line: "You listen to me, Asey!" 

Last lines: "Huh," Win said. "Anyone can catch a bluefish!"

Deaths = 2 (one shot; one fell from height)

No comments: