Thu 29 Dec 2011
William F. Deeck
ELIZABETH CURTISS – Nine Doctors and a Madman. Simon and Schuster, hardcover, 1937.
The subgenre of mysteries dealing with insane asylums seems to be few in number but high in quality. Now Curtiss’s novel can be added to the list, and it is a fine addition.
One of the nine doctors at Brandmere Hospital is murdered by an inmate, or so it would appear. The inmate says he did it, is in a room alone with the corpse, and has the bloody skewer; the other physical evidence, however, contradicts his claim.
Nonetheless, he must have done it since no one else in the hospital seems to have had the opportunity, though most of them had a motive. A simple mind, my mind, but I would judge that there’s tricky fair play here.
Curtiss writes and observes well: “Her hair had been meticulously pinched and plastered into waves which would have turned a Greek sculptor green with envy.”
Her detective, Nathaniel Bunce, M.D., whom the publisher describes as a psychologist but must be a psychiatrist, is a character who might have achieved greatness if he had appeared in more than two novels, assuming the second matches the quality of this one. [The second being Dead Dogs Bite (Simon & Schuster, 1937).]
Describing the narrator of the novel, young and naive Dr. Theophilus Bishop, Bunce says: “Your mind … is like a kangaroo. It jumps, high, wide and handsome. It leaves, therefore, vast areas untrodden.”
For those who may be interested, the novels that I have read that have as a setting mental institutions or have reason to believe deal with that sort of establishment are:
Murder in the Madhouse, by Jonathan Latimer
The Deadly Chase, by Carter Cullen
Shock Treatment, by Winfred van Atta
Night World, by Robert Bloch
The Drowning Pool, by Ross Macdonald
The Goodbye Look, by Ross Macdonald
No Face in the Mirror, by Richard Copeland in the UK, Hugh McLeave in the US
Death in the Doll’s House, by Hannah Lees and Lawrence Blochman
Crazy to Kill, by Ann Cardwell
The Odor of Bitter Almonds, by James G. Edwards
A Mind to Murder, by P. D. James
The Spectacles of Mr. Caligostro, by Harry Stephen Keeler
Snow White and Rose Red, by Ed McBain
A Puzzle for Fools, by Patrick Quentin
Shadow of a Doubt, by June Thomson.