Fri 5 Jun 2015
by Kathleen L. Maio
RAE FOLEY – Death and Mr. Potter. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1955. Also published as: The Peacock Is a Bird of Prey. Dell, paperback, 1976. Thorndike Press, hardcover, large print, 1985.
Rae Foley is, in mystery terms, a graduate of the Mary Roberts Rinehart and had-I-but-known school of writing. She is known as one of the leading lights of “romantic suspense,” yet in her early days Foley wrote mysteries that approximated the classic puzzler. Death and Mr. Potter is one of those efforts. It is the first in a series of books featuring mild-mannered Mr. Hiram Potter as amateur sleuth.
Potter is Old Money. But that money had always been in the firm grasp of his autocratic mother. As the book opens, the matriarch’s funeral is concluding and the long-cowed and obedient son finds himself unexpectedly independent — both emotionally and financially. If that isn’t excitement enough, a young woman plunges from a neighboring high-rise into Potter’s garden. Hiram investigates out of a sense of moral outrage — and the suspicion that one of the mourners at his mother’s funeral must he the murderer.
The story resembles standard murder-at-the-manor fare, except this time the manor is in Gramercy Park and not an English village. The characters are generally stock figures, from the blackmailing poor relations to the ethnic servants who (as Italians) are fat, drink too much wine, and smell of garlic.
Still, there is a certain charm to Hiram Potter and his sincere, if largely ineffectual, sleuthing. The nine Potter mysteries represent Foley’s best mystery work. Although inferior in quality, Foley is better remembered for the more than twenty damsel-in-distress thrillers she produced in the Sixties and Seventies. In these, feminine but fluff-headed young women prove even more ineffectual at detecting than Hiram Potter. They are usually thoroughly bruised and battered by the time they stumble across the murderer, and into the arms of a dominant male suitor, at book’s end.
Hiram Potter also appears in Back Door to Death (1963), Call It Accident (1965), and A Calculated Risk (1970).
Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.