Deadly Nightshade by Elizabeth Daly

Originally published in 1940
Henry Gamadge #2
Preceded by Unexpected Night
Followed by Murders in Volume 2

With talk of war all over the radio waves, antiquarian book dealer Henry Gamadge is back in Maine, this time by invitation of his friend Detective Mitchell. Mitchell has a real puzzler on his hands: three different children have been poisoned with deadly nightshade, and there is no motive that could possibly link all three poisonings, beside the fact that the children all live in the same small community. Could the nearby encampment of Gypsies be involved? And was the death of a state trooper at about the same time a mere coincidence? Gamadge sets out to separate fact from fiction and find the killer before they strike again…

A few years back I stacked up on Elizabeth Daly novels when I happened upon a set of them in a secondhand bookshop. I have been slowly working my way through them ever since and while I have yet to be completely blown away by one (the closest to date was a later volume, The Book of the Lion), I have enjoyed those I have read well enough to keep returning to them.

Daly’s series sleuth is Henry Gamadge, an antiquarian book dealer. One of the challenges writers with amateur detectives face is working out how they come to investigate their second crime. Daly handles this by having Inspector Mitchell, the police detective from her first novel, reach out to Gamadge to ask if he can once again throw light on a puzzling and potentially volatile situation.

Several children, each from separate households but living in the same community, all became sick on the same day having eaten the berries from the deadly nightshade plant. One has died while another has vanished and tensions are running high with suspicion falling on a nearby community of gypsies. Mitchell does not believe that they are responsible but has struggled to come up with any explanation. Sensing that the community’s patience is running out and without the help of a state trooper who died in an accident around that time, he asks Gamadge to travel to Maine and help him with his investigation.

The obvious place to start in discussing this book is by addressing its really dark subject matter. Crimes against children are not uncommon in modern mystery fiction but are certainly rare in works from this period. While I can recall a few stories that involve kidnappings and one with an accidental death (Blake’s The Beast Must Die), I cannot think of any that feature the murder of a very young child.

The expectation that I have when I encounter this sort of subject matter is that it will be matched by a dark and broody tone. I have shared that I often avoid stories of this type because as the parent of a young child myself the subject matter can be quite uncomfortable for me. I doubt I would have picked this off the shelf if I had looked at the blurb. As I read however I was struck by how the book never really taps into any of that emotional material instead presenting it as simply a curious puzzle for Gamadge to solve. While we are told at the start of the book that emotions have been running high, I rarely felt that communicated through the characters’ speech or actions.

The exception would be the animus directed toward the gypsies camped nearby. This is also often told rather than shown but we do hear enough to get a sense of the resentments, fears and suspicions that have developed toward that community. Daly tries to be thoughtful in how she addresses these, using Gamadge and Mitchell’s belief in their innocence and the sense that they are being persecuted to provide some balance to that discussion.

Turning to the investigation itself, I think Daly does a good job in the initial chapters of drawing out and exploring the nature of the puzzle she is setting us. The main question is one of motive – to explain why these children from different households were all targeted. I do think this is an interesting question and I appreciated the way Gamadge logically works through the possibilities at the outset to arrive at the few most likely options.

I also appreciated that Daly does a good job of showing how Gamadge is able to interact in a different way with some of the witnesses, particularly the children and the gypsies, to persuade them to share information with him. I could understand why he was able to make some progress where Mitchell had failed and so here I felt the tandem approach of pairing an amateur with a professional detective worked well).

The problem I had with the investigation though is that it frequently feels rather unstructured. I think part of the reason for this is that Gamadge is not joining out the outset but instead at a point where most of the evidence has already been collected. That allows for a neater presentation of the puzzle but it also means that there is little sense of discovery, particularly beyond the first few chapters. Instead many of the interviews seem more focused on expanding upon details already learned.

That is not to suggest that the investigation is without interest. To give an example, the question of the identity of a person seen driving in the area on the day of the poisonings is an intriguing one. Unfortunately I feel that Daly takes a little too long to get to these points and bring them into focus which leaves the midsection of the novel feeling rather slow.

Which brings me to the conclusion.

Let me stress that I think the solution is very interesting and that it ought to have been a satisfying one. It certainly pulls together a number of story strands and helps make sense of some aspects of the story I had not been entirely satisfied by prior to that. The problem is that while I can look back at what came before and see how everything fits, I am far from convinced that the reader is truly given enough information to reach that conclusion themselves ahead of the detectives.

This ends up undercutting the cleverness of the ending. Rather than marveling at the detective for their work at piecing it all together and thinking we might have reached the same result, it’s hard not to feel a little underwhelmed – if not cheated – when Gamadge reveals the truth.

The Verdict: A frustrating read. Daly has some interesting ideas and themes for this book but the pacing in the middle third seems off while the novel’s solution feels inadequately clued. While it is not without interest, puzzle fans may want to look to other works first.

Second Opinions: Kate @ CrossExaminingCrime was disappointed with the book, noting that we are told but not shown information and was dissatisfied with the sudden solution.

Bev @ My Readers Block found the story a little hard to follow though wondered if this might be attributed to her slightly abridged copy. I had a similar experience in spite of having the full text.

Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly

Originally published in 1941
Henry Gamadge #3
Preceded by Deadly Nightshade
Followed by The House Without the Door

One hundred years earlier, a beautiful guest had disappeared from the wealthy Vauregard household, along with the second volume in a set of the collected works of Byron. Improbably enough, both guest and book seem to have reappeared, with neither having aged a day. The elderly Mr. Vauregard is inclined to believe the young woman’s story of having vacationed on an astral plane. But his dubious niece calls in Henry Gamadge, gentleman-sleuth, expert in rare books, and sufficiently well-bred to avoid distressing the Vauregard sensibilities.

As Gamadge soon discovers, delicate sensibilities abound chez Vauregard, where the household includes an aging actress with ties to a spiritualist sect and a shy beauty with a shady (if crippled) fiance. As always in this delightful series, Gamadge comes up trumps, but only after careful study of the other players’ cards.

Rare books expert and amateur sleuth Henry Gamadge receives a visit from a young woman who wants his help. Her uncle, Mr. Vauregard, is one of the wealthiest men in New York and, until recently, lived alone in their family home. He now has a young female ward who he insists is the same woman that family stories say disappeared from their walled back garden a hundred years earlier with the second volume in a set of the collected poetry of Byron. He believes that she has travelled on the astral plane, pointing to her period clothing and the book she carried with her which was one of a presentational set that was specially produced.

Gamadge immediately suspects that this is an imposter – the question is what they are hoping to gain and how they acquired the information and a seemingly authentic copy of the book necesssary to pull off this deception. Keen to avoid the indignity of a public scandal or offending their uncle, they hope Gamadge will be able to prove the fraud and enable them to handle the matter quietly.

After a brief investigation however Gamadge finds himself investigating a case of murder…

Before I get to talking about the details of this book I feel like I need to take a moment to address what this book is not. You see, the reason I picked this book to read this week was because it is featured in Bob Adey’s Locked Room Murders with the entry describing the disappearance of the young woman from that garden a hundred years earlier. As I read however I found myself utterly baffled, not by the mystery itself but rather why it merited inclusion. Surely, I reasoned, I am going to find that the explanation entry will say that it’s not an impossibility at all.

It does not. After much thought and revisiting both the book and the entries several times I still cannot understand why Adey views this as a legitimate impossibility. For one thing, it is never really investigated at all in the course of the novel because it is irrelevant to the problem that Gamadge is attempting to solve. For another, we are talking about an event that essentially was unwitnessed and for which the only evidence is that no one ever saw the girl or the book again. Let me suggest that you really shouldn’t be reading this for the impossibility alone and accordingly I have decided not to categorize it as such here.

Of course it is not Elizabeth Daly’s fault that I read this book expecting something quite different than what I got so, putting that disappointment to one side, I am going to try to judge it on its own merits.

One of the problems of Gamadge is that his expertise and skillset is so specific that he can feel like a rather unlikely sleuth. I think this case though is a really credible one for him to become involved in. We have clients who see that the best avenue for convincing their uncle about the fraud is to disprove the authenticity of the book, not the woman. In addition to the rather technical points of that investigation however, we can see this in more human terms because there is the question of who orchestrated this deception and why. This, for me, was the most compelling aspect of the investigation – even once we have a body on our hands.

The murder occurs, as the title suggests, in the second of the novel’s three volumes and sends the investigation in a somewhat different direction. This is important for sustaining Gamadge’s involvement in the case – he is the first on the scene and recognizes that members of the family may need his help and advice – but the circumstances surrounding the murder itself are not particularly compelling.

Where the first section of the novel delves into family history and relationships, the material that follows this murder feels more focused on discovering motive and opportunity. The solution to what happened is rather uninspiring and is reached more through persistance, attempts to undermine alibis and a willingness to lay traps by dropping hints about what he knows. In short, those who are hoping for some solid detection are going to be disappointed as there is relatively little application of deductive reasoning here. I think it would be fair to say that Gamadge does not so much solve this case as he does stir things up before waiting to see where everything lands. That approach is fine for an adventure story but much less satisfying when read as detective fiction.

This is a shame because there is some material here that I think is interesting and relatively original. I really like the premise of someone disappearing and reappearing in exactly the same place years later having not aged a day, even if it is not really the focus here. It perhaps is not sufficient to sustain an entire novel but I find the idea appealing and would love to read a story that did it with a shorter timespan (perhaps a decade or two rather than a century) to allow for actual witnesses. I am sure it must exist so please feel free to let me know of any such titles in the comments.

I also enjoyed the cast of characters, several of whom are quite eccentric and theatrical. I think Daly does a solid job of establishing their distinct personalities and I could understand why Gamadge wants to protect them. Certainly their company is entertaining enough if you are reading this as an adventure but because Gamadge is protective of them, it frustrates that he never really applies pressure or closely questions anyone.

All of which is to say that I ultimately found Murders in Volume 2 to be a deeply underwhelming read, even if I was quite engaged for much of it. The central premise of the investigation holds some promise and feels quite unusual but there just isn’t enough payoff here to make the time spent with it worthwhile. There are better Daly novels out there.

The Verdict: I love the premise of this mystery but sadly found that it never realizes its potential. There are better Gamadge stories than this.

Second Opinions

J. F. Norris at Pretty Sinister Books notes how this was out of print for years and declares he has solved the mystery of why. He has less patience for the discussion of Webster than I had but I broadly agree with his review.

The Book of the Lion by Elizabeth Daly

Originally Published 1948
Henry Gamadge #13
Preceded by Night Walk
Followed by And Dangerous To Know…

It should be a fairly routine job for Henry Gamadge: Examining the papers of a dead poet and playwright with some early promise but not much in the way of commercial success. But it’s not so much the life and letters as the death of the author (murdered in Central Park) that interests Gamadge. Add in a dead witness and the odd behavior of the family, and Gamadge decides something criminal is afoot.

The subject of today’s post, Elizabeth Daly’s mystery The Book of the Lion, was one of the books selected for me in a Coffee and Crime box. I have previously written about a couple of other Henry Gamadge stories, both of which I enjoyed, but this title stands out as being the first where the sleuth’s unique knowledge and skill set really proves important.

For those unfamiliar with the character, Henry Gamadge is a specialist from New York who investigates the provenance of rare books and manuscripts. He first appeared in Unexpected Night and this is one of the later installments in the series. By this point in his career he has had a number of successes as an amateur criminologist and one of the characters he will make use of in this investigation is someone he proved innocent of a crime in a previous novel.

The Book of the Lion begins which Gamadge receiving a telephone call from a financier asking him to handle the valuation and sale of his dead brother’s letters and papers. An irritated Gamadge explains that he is not a book dealer but, intrigued to learn that the papers belonged to Paul Bradlock, a poet and playwright who had been murdered a few years earlier. Gamadge agrees to come to dinner and offer his opinion of them.

When Gamadge arrives he is apologetically told that the sister-in-law had arranged their sale that very afternoon for the exact price the financier was hoping they might fetch. They conduct the final stages of the sale in front of him, a check for $1,000 being produced and the letters handed to the trader in a sealed box without any sort of an inventory being done. Gamadge finds this whole situation very strange and so begins to make inquiries into both the strange transaction and, less directly, into the dead playwright’s life and murder.

It is a rather curious coincidence that I came to read this immediately after Dorothy L. Sayers’ Unnatural Death because the two books have some significant elements in common. For one thing, both are essentially cold cases where the amateur sleuth is drawn in by their general feeling that something isn’t quite right. For another, in both cases the involvement of the sleuth brings about further deaths that otherwise would not have happened (though Gamadge never feels the same degree of angst about his own role in events).

I think the initial scenario Daly creates for her story is very clever. The mention of a previous murder certainly intrigues but it is the behavior of the various characters Gamadge meets at that dinner that sucks the sleuth, and the reader, into the mystery.

While there is a credible, innocent explanation for the speedy sale, Daly makes it clear that the timing is suspiciously quick – particularly given that the widow has possessed those letters for over two years. There are several possible explanations explored, any of which would be fascinating, but Gamadge’s investigation sets him on a trail he could not have predicted.

This trail leads back to the literary and artistic communities of Americans that had settled in Paris between the wars and incorporates some interesting discussion about those communities, the art they produced and their ultimate fates. This is not only a fascinating backdrop for the mystery, that period of the murdered man’s life is directly relevant to the case which allows Daly to explore it in detail without feeling like a diversion from the main thrust of the plot.

In addition to the exploration of a literary community, Gamadge’s professional skills are put to the test in several ways throughout this novel. Firstly, in the assessments he makes about the dead playwright’s literary abilities and career which give us a sense of that man’s character. Secondly, in his understanding of how the market for trading personal papers works and how the process here has diverged from any typical practice or timeline. Finally, there is a point in this story in which he has to interpret and assess some historical and literary documents that will be hugely significant to this case.

Daly does a superb job of explaining what Gamadge knows and what that information means to allow the reader to follow the action. The focus here is on more general knowledge about literary documents rather than testing particular scraps of paper which helps keep those sections of the story from feeling dry or technical. I found the discussion of The Book of the Lion especially interesting and enjoyed doing some reading of my own about it after finishing the book (that is partly to blame for the slightly later upload on this post than usual).

As there is no direct suggestion of a crime until late in the story, the pacing of this story may seem a little unusual to readers. I was sufficiently intrigued by the context of the investigation to pursue it, much like Gamadge who at points is questioned about why he is persisting in his interest in a sale and situation that seems already settled, but I think it is fair to say that this is not treated as an intense or serious criminal investigation until very late in its page count. Even once a body turns up the pacing remains quite slow with Daly exploring some supporting characters including the relationship between a young couple that Gamadge meets.

I quite liked those interactions, feeling that those moments do a lot to convey Gamadge’s warmth as a character – something I commented favorably on in my review of Unexpected Night. This does a lot to offset some of the irritability we witness in him early in the story, making him a fundamentally likeable amateur sleuth.

The investigation of the death later in the novel is interesting and it plays fair with the reader. Because of the circumstances of the body there is an assumption that the victim committed suicide and while Gamadge may not be believed by the authorities, his reasoning for thinking that the victim was murdered are cleverly and logically reasoned. Similarly, the way he works out what actually happened is also quite satisfying.

The final chapters of the book bring everything to a close quite nicely with a conclusion I found to be quite surprising in several ways. There are some clever ideas, both in the discussion of historical events but also those in the present day, and I think Daly’s resolution to this particular case is really quite compelling.

Given the relatively brief page count of the Gamadge novels, it is probably no surprise that characters who are not directly relevant to the case get very little to do. Gamadge’s wife, for instance, is often referred to but hardly seen while David, who he enlists to help in this investigation, appears quite a lot but does not exude much personality. Readers of any previous stories in which those two have appeared may feel a little differently but if this is your first encounter with them you will not feel you particularly get to know them.

On the whole though I was much more impressed with this Gamadge adventure than either of my previous experiences with the character. Daly creates a clever plot and I think her discussion of a period of literary history is really interesting. While the pacing and the plot are perhaps not particularly thrilling, the ideas certainly are and I felt engaged throughout the whole story, in part because I enjoyed this sleuth’s company.

The Verdict: Packed with clever ideas, The Book of the Lion is not a thrilling read but it is certainly an interesting one.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: An Animal in the Title (What)

Further Reading

Les @ Classic Mysteries shares his thoughts on this book as both a written post and a podcast. He is a Daly fan and while he likes this one, suggests there are even better books featuring the character – something that can only be good news for me as I continue to explore her work!

Unexpected Night by Elizabeth Daly

Originally Published 1940
Henry Gamadge #1
Followed by Deadly Nightshade

New York handwriting and rare book expert—and a gentleman sleuth—Henry Gamadge is vacationing in coastal Maine when the police there need his help. It’s a strange case involving a seemingly natural death, a large inheritance, a mysterious nighttime rendezvous, and a troupe of summer stock actors who start dying off. Something is clearly afoot, but nothing quite seems to fit. With an eye for frauds, Gamadge is just what the local detective needs to throw the book at a killer . . .

Back at the start of the year I posted about my excitement at finding an affordable vintage crime novel in a local second hand book store. Since then I returned to the same book store and found that they had acquired used copies of most of the rest of Elizabeth Daly’s works. It was a pretty simple decision to go ahead and buy up their stock for a rainy day…

That previous experience of Daly was with her last book, The Book of the Crime, so it is nice to be able to jump back and start the Gamadge series at the beginning. Unexpected Night introduces us to Daly’s antiquarian bookseller sleuth as he finds himself pulled into a case as an expert in handwriting analysis.

The story concerns Amberley Cowden, a young but very sickly man who will inherit a great fortune if he lives past midnight when he reaches the age of majority. He and his family check into a hotel where he celebrates his birthday only to sneak out from his room during the night. When his body is found at the foot of a cliff it appears he has met with an unfortunate accident but the timing of the death, so soon after he inherited his fortune, leads the authorities to want to look at the matter more closely.

As set-ups for mysteries go, this makes for a pretty intriguing start to a case. Why was Cowden walking along the cliffs so late at night? If he was killed, why do it so soon after he reached his birthday and knowing that a natural death would likely occur within the next year or two? There is a lot to make sense of – fortunately Gamadge is up to the task!

When I wrote about The Book of the Crime one of my complaints was that I felt that we didn’t really get to know Daly’s sleuth. While I think he is not sketched in enormous detail here either, I did feel I had a better grip on his personality throughout the novel and understood why he was curious about particular details of the investigation.

One of the big challenges with any amateur detective is creating a credible reason that they might find themselves involved in an investigation. I appreciated that Daly does not shy away from this problem, having Gamadge say pretty bluntly that he is not really qualified to help on several occasions and quickly steering the investigation away from his area of expertise (though not in such a way that it becomes irrelevant). After a while however his curiosity is clearly aroused and he finds himself drawn to protect one of the family members who he sees as vulnerable, creating a compelling reason for him to keep investigating.

One of the nicest things about the character is that he exudes a warmth that I am not used to from several of the more famous series detectives of this period. He cares about the people involved in this case and works hard to take their feelings into account as he pursues the truth. This connection to his humanity is rather refreshing and I also appreciated that he never really feels the need to show off his skills – his ego being confined to his own area of professional expertise.

Daly also introduces an interesting dynamic between him and the Police, having him work as a sort of informal consultant. This works nicely as it allows them to share information but it also enables her to show how Gamadge possesses a brilliant and creative mind, building him up without diminishing the police (also fairly unusual in my experience of this era of detective fiction). Essentially the contrast comes down to one of flexibility – Gamadge dares to question some of the details of the case taken as facts and, in doing so, is able to envisage the case in a different way.

In her review (I have linked below), Kate suggests that Daly does not offer quite enough evidence to back up some aspects of the conclusion. I think that it is true that Gamadge should not be able to prove his case with the evidence the reader has been given at the moment of the reveal and, thus, the book perhaps doesn’t quite play fair. That being said, I do see how Gamadge’s solution (even lacking evidence to prove it in a court of law) could be seen to offer a tidiness that no alternative reading of the facts would allow. The way Daly opts to have the case proved though is quite lazy, relying on a third party to confirm a significant chunk of the solution he could otherwise only guess at and I do think it is those final two chapters feel a little rushed and unsatisfying as a result.

There are many other aspects of the book that I responded very well to however, not least the interesting cast of suspects Daly develops. Cowden’s family make up an interesting blend of types, clearly all financially dependent on their relative to some extent. Daly does a good job of allowing their personalities and feelings towards Amberley to emerge over the course of the novel as I found that I remained uncertain of several characters’ motivations and sincerity until close to the end of the novel. This added to the intrigue of the situation and made aspects of the conclusion all the more compelling to me.

I also appreciated the wonderful descriptions of the small theatre that Atwood has created on an old pier with the actors using tents on the sand for changing rooms and all the small cast having to double or triple up on parts. I found this an easy location to imagine and felt that Daly did a good job of bringing her cast of theatrical characters to life.

All in all, I found this second experience with Gamadge to be a much more satisfying encounter than my first. The mystery, while not perfectly clued, is engaging and presents a solid puzzle for the reader to solve and I found the sleuth entertaining company for a couple of hours. As I noted at the start of this article, I own most of Daly’s works so I am confident that I will be returning to experience more of his adventures soon.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: At least two deaths with different means (How)

Further Reading

Kate @ CrossExaminingCrime found the book uneven, though she had praise for the sleuth himself and Daly’s writing style. I cannot disagree with her opinion that the evidence for the conclusion rests a lot on a statement from a third party.

Les @ Classic Mysteries suggests that while this is an entertaining read, it is far from Daly’s strongest work. He suggests that as they do not need to be read in order that some may want to start with a later title and then return to this.

The Book of the Crime by Elizabeth Daly

Originally Published 1951
Henry Gamadge #16
Preceded by Death and Letters

Young Rena Austen, newly wed, is afraid she’s made a terrible mistake. Her husband, once a dashingly romantic figure of a wounded war hero, has become a moody lay-about, and they are sharing a gloomy house on the Upper East Side of New York with his unpleasant, always-there family. When her husband reacts in a frighteningly angry way to Rena pulling a particular volume off the library shelf, she has had enough, and flees her home in fear for her life. Thankfully, Henry Gamadge is on hand to solve the mystery of the book—and the dead body that inevitably turns up.

I have expressed the enormous sense of envy I feel towards several of my blogging chums who are able to pop down to a market stall or a charity book shop and happen upon actual vintage mysteries. The few secondhand bookstores near me rarely have anything dating back before 1980 (Agatha Christie titles, wonderful though they are, do not count). I can, of course, order things online but that limits the opportunities for discovery which is one of the great pleasures of book shopping for me.

It was a nice surprise for me when I stumbled upon a copy of Elizabeth Daly’s The Book of the Crime the other day at a local used bookstore (the edition pictured is a much more recent reprint from Felony & Mayhem than the one I purchased). While starting with the last book in a series is hardly ideal, I couldn’t resist the acquisition and then felt the need to justify spending the money by actually reading it.

The Book of the Crime introduces us to Rena Austen, a young woman who married a wounded war hero only to find that their relationship quickly turned sour. One day he discovers her looking at a book in their library and becomes very intense with her, frightening her enough that she decides to tell him that she wants to leave him. He storms out, locking her in the room, forcing her to escape and run to the only person she can think who might help – Henry Gamadge who had been a client of a publisher she used to work for.

This story has a somewhat unusual structure in that while there are clearly odd things taking place in that house in the Upper East Side, we are over halfway through the novel before Gamadge has an obvious crime to investigate. Up until that point our focus is on learning about the characters, trying to understand what about Rena holding that particular book prompted such an explosive reaction from her husband and observing how Henry supports her and steers her in trying to secure a more permanent separation from her husband.

That last point is particularly important as securing Rena’s long-term security is Henry’s main priority in investigating this situation and he does so already being convinced that her husband must be guilty of something. This is a completely understandable assumption based on his behavior and it quickly establishes Henry’s role in this story as a champion of the woman involved in the case rather than as a more dispassionate, process-driven detective.

These early chapters of the novel also provide information about recent developments in Henry Gamadge’s life which sadly were a little lost on me. This is, of course, not Daly’s fault. She was not responsible for me jumping on board at the end of this series and I think they seem well written. If nothing else, it is certainly a pleasant novelty to encounter a sleuth with a genuinely happy home life. I will be curious to see whether other titles in this series also feature these glimpses of his domestic life or if it was unique to this novel.

I found Henry Gamadge to be quite an appealing protagonist and can understand the comparisons people draw with Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, though I think he seems a little less affected. His response to Rena’s problems is quite admirable, particularly given he hardly knows her, and I think that makes him feel all the more likable. I also enjoyed that this mystery absolutely caters to his particular skill set, making his background a really important part of the story.

Turning back to the mystery element of the novel, I think the start of this book presents us with an intriguing situation though not much in the way of firm, physical clues. Instead this is the sort of case where the reader must infer things about the case based on the situation and what we can observe of characters’ relationships with each other.

That approach often works well and I did find some of the deductions to be quite clever but I do think the overall structure of the plot naturally suggests the answers to several key plot points. I do think though that if you haven’t already guessed at the solution, the explanations given for how the different elements of the story related to each other seem quite logical and clever. I was ultimately satisfied with the reasons given about what took place and why.

One part of the book that did disappoint however is the introduction of a murder late in the narrative. There are some positives that come with this plot development in that it gives a little focus to the investigation element of the story and I think it plays an important role in several of the novel’s subplots but the victim is unknown to us at first meeting, meaning that their death has little emotional impact. We do gain a little information about this character in subsequent chapters never so much that I felt that they really came to life.

Happily I found the initial mystery concerning Austen’s erratic behavior sufficiently interesting that I could overlook the relatively uninteresting murder. I enjoyed the process of discovering more about him and his family while I felt it built to a solid, if not exactly thrilling conclusion that lacks surprises.

On the whole I enjoyed it more than enough to go and seek out more of Daly’s work which I expect to do in the near future.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: Librarian/Bookstore Owner/Publisher (Who) – Gamadge isn’t exactly any of these but I think being a rare books expert is clearly along the same lines