STUART PALMER – The Puzzle of the Red Stallion. Bantam, paperback reprint; 1st printing, February 1987. Hardcover edition: Doubleday Crime Club, 1936; hc reprint: Sun Dial Press, date unknown (cover shown). British title: The Puzzle of the Briar Pipe. Collins, 1936. Film: RKO, 1936, as Murder on a Bridle Path (with Helen Broderick as Hildegarde Withers & James Gleason as Police Inspector Oscar Piper).

STUART PALMER The Puzzle of the Red Stallion

   I’ve not seen the movie recently, which means not within the past 40 years or more, but the synopsis and the various comments on IMDB makes it sound as though the book was translated into film, amazingly enough, about as closely as it could be done.

   When a young woman riding her horse through New York City’s Central Park is found dead on the ground, it is presumed at first that her horse threw her, but when schoolteacher Miss Withers finds a spot of blood on the horse’s upper leg, even Inspector Piper has to agree that something suspicious has happened.

   And when more clues prove conclusively that the woman was murdered, there no shortage of suspects, including an ex-husband whom she had jailed for non-payment of alimony; her ex’s father; the stablehand whom advances she spurned; another fast-living type named Eddie for which the same goes; the obnoxious stable owner who’d love to get her hands on the titular horse; that lady’s meekish sort of husband; and more.

STUART PALMER The Puzzle of the Red Stallion

   This is a good but far from great example of the 1930s concept of the comic crime novel, and no, you should not expect anything resembling good professional procedure on the part of the police and medical experts who are called in. In fact, quite oppositely, both are fairly inept at what they are supposed to do.

   But what can you expect when the police allow an old maid, a spinster, if you will, to follow the head of homicide around on his cases, picking up and stashing away clues at her own discretion, running interference for him when he?s about to go off in wrong directions, and generally being in charge of the case, albeit of course strictly unofficially?

   Comedy is a matter of taste, and in this case, it worked only intermittently for me. The was the sixth novel Hildegarde Withers was in, and by this time I think Stuart Palmer simply fired up the plot and let things cruise along on automatic.

   There is some good detective involving pipes and the people who smoke them, and there is also the reddest of red herrings. You get the good with all of the pleasure of watching an author work up a fine case of deductive reasoning, and you take the bad with a small grimace of my goodness, did he really do that?

   He does, and he did.