CAROLYN WELLS – The Wooden Indian. J. B. Lippincott, hardcover, US/UK, 1935. Hardcover reprint: A. L. Burt/Blue Ribbon Books.

   A recent replacement of a hot water heater in our basement necessitated the moving of several boxes of books in order in order to make room for the old one to be dragged out and the new one brought in. This brought to the light of day (figuratively speaking) several shelves of other books that I was glad to lay my eyes on again. It had been six or seven years, at least.

CAROLYN WELLS Fleming Stone

   I am talking several hundred books in total — being moved and/or coming to light again — and of these, I picked one to read, not realizing at the time that Bill Pronzini had beaten me to it. One of his reviews from 1001 Midnights is of this same book and was posted here on this blog back in January of this year.

   This is a Fleming Stone mystery, and while Bill called him “colorless and one-dimensional,” I’d say he’s a step or two above that in both categories, but on the other hand, he’s certainly no more than that.

   Dead is a man whose demise is so certain, and at the hand of another, that Bob Barnaby, a friend of Stone’s staying in the same elite area in Connecticut (near the Pequot Club Grounds, a center of the book’s activities), senses it too, and calls him in on the case long before the murder actually happens.

   It seems that David Corbin, a noted stamp collector as well as that of Indian memorabilia, is rather a bully to his wife, in public, at least, and his wife is also one of those beauties who suffers in silence while attracting other men to her like, well, moths to a flame.

   The murder weapon is an arrow, fired from the bow of, well, guess what, a wooden Indian in full regalia in the dead man’s study. There is limited access to the room, but I do not believe that the mystery could really be called one of the locked room variety.

   I’d expected the story to be stodgy and formal, but I was in error in that regard. The banter is generally witty, although of the upper crust type– no dark and dirty streets here — and the tale is heavy on dialogue, so much so that one must stop every once in a while and trace the paragraph back to rediscover who it is that’s talking.

   This is also one of those books in which all of the suspects are gathered together in one room for a final confrontation, whether it’s necessary or not. Stone claims not to have known who the killer was until the very last moment, but an even less than astute reader should know from the questions he’s been asking who it is that he suspects long before then.

   As a detective story, then, The Wooden Indian lands solidly in the “mediocre” category. Enjoyable enough, but distinctly below par. Bill concludes his comments about Carolyn Wells’ detective stories in general by saying, “… the casual reader looking for entertaining, well-written, believable mysteries would do well to look elsewhere.”

   While I’m far from discouraged enough to say I’ll never read another one of her books, I’d have to say that I’m not especially encouraged to do so either — not immediately, at any rate.