Sun 1 Jan 2012
MIGNON G. EBERHART – Murder in Waltz Time. Short novel; first published in The American Magazine, May 1953.
This small gem of a detective story was reprinted in two of Mignon Eberhart’s later story collections, Deadly Is the Diamond (Random House, hc, 1958) and Best Mystery Stories (Warner, pb, 1988), and calling it a “short novel” is stretching it a bit, at best. Without resorting to counting words, I’d say it would run 60 to 100 pages in an ordinary paperback, depending on the size of type.
As I’m sure you know, many of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe tales first appeared in this same format and in this same magazine and were collected later in hardcover in groupings of three or four.
The American Magazine was always a favorite of mine as a youngster. I liked the cartoons, the photos, and the ads. Today I’m attracted to the same things, but now I like the stories and the artwork as well, plus the tidbits of interest about the movies, and items worth noting about radio and television stars and programs.
As for Eberhart’s story, it’s a solid detective tale, necessarily boiled down to its pure essentials because of its length. No time for but the briefest characterization, and the motivations barely more. It takes place in a Florida resort where the dancing team of Fran Allen and Steve Greene are the featured attraction, and it’s Fran who finds the body of elderly Miss Flora Halsey.
And as the investigation goes on, besides her nephew who was staying with her, more and more of the guests staying at the Montego House are found to have known Miss Halsey in the past, making Captain Scott’s job all the more difficult.
Here’s a paragraph that appears toward the end of the tale. It doesn’t reveal the killer in any way, but *WARNING* it might tell you more of the plot that you’d rather know, but I think it’s entirely indicative of the kind of story it is.
“Nothing — nothing. Go on.”
Don’t get me wrong. As a mystery writer, Eberhart was a pro, through and through, and while I feel I might be admitting something you may find a little strange, I found this story to be much, much more than minimally entertaining.
FRANCES MALM – The Woman Involved. Short novel; first published in The American Magazine, May 1953.
There is no mention of Frances Malm in the current edition of Hubin’s bibliography of crime fiction, so unless she wrote tons of short fiction, I doubt that many readers today have ever heard of her. But since there’s more than one crime involved in this novella (my description) I’m reporting on it anyway — as I’m sure you’ve already noticed.
In length “The Woman Involved” is somewhat longer than the one by Mignon Eberhart, or at least that’s my impression. Once again I didn’t count words.
When a young woman, Dana Wallace, goes back home to settle her stepfather’s estate she finds, unexpectedly, both a mystery and a romance. A large sum of money is missing from Judge Poole’s checking account, and (with no apparent connection) a brash young man, on his way up and resented by the old guard residents of Middleford for doing so, offers to buy the property where the judge’s home is located.
Dana does a more-than-decent job of detective work, discovering a number things she did not know about her stepfather, but the emphasis here is rather more with the battle of rich vs. poor in matters of status in small town America, and Frances Malm puts her finger precisely on a number of the sore spots that can arise as a result.
A minor work, I’d have to truthfully say, and one that in all likelihood has never been reprinted. There’s no doubt that it’s mystery fiction, though, and it’s definitely worth reading.
PostScript. Frances had a sister named Dorothea Malm, who wrote a handful of novels published as gothic romance mysteries in the 1960s.
The only “real” novel that Frances wrote that I’ve been able to uncover is World Cruise (Doubleday, hardcover, 1960; Cardinal, paperback, 1961). Here’s the cover description of the book, the Cardinal edition: “The compelling story of a beautiful divorcee seeking love and fulfillment on a luxury cruise.”
UPDATE. 01-01-12. My copy of this magazine has gone into hiding, and I’ve not been able to come up with a cover image, much less any of the interior art. Doing a Google search online, I did find a long partial description of the contents, however:
The American Magazine, May 1953. Vol CIV, No. 5. 144 pages. COVER: What’s Ahead for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor? Painting by Al Brule Articles include: AMERICA’S GLAMOROUS GODMOTHER Oveta Culp Hobby — the little woman who holds one of the biggest jobs in the US. A determined Texan, she looks out for the personal health and welfare of every one of us as US Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. by Clarence Woodbury; COVER ARTICLE: What’s Ahead for the Windsors? The Coronation next month may mean a new career for England’s jobless ex-King. By Roul Tunley. 5 page article; FUN TIME IN THE ROCKIES Canada beckons summer vacationists to its fabulous wonderland. By Richard Neuberg; A PEEK AT THE MOVIES of the MONTH; “Nature Girl” a short story by Elizabeth Stowe; “The Lie” a short story by Cynthia Hope and Frances Ancker; “Murder in Waltz Time” by Mignon G. Eberhart.
Or in other words, a small time capsule of what life was like in May, 1953.