Sun 29 Jan 2012
William F. Deeck
RUTH SAWTELL WALLIS – Too Many Bones. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1943. Dell #123, mapback, no date stated .
— No Bones About It. Dodd Mead, hardcover, 1944. Bantam #72, paperback, 1946.
The first mystery in Too Many Bones is why the William Henry Proutman Museum, named after the aforesaid gentleman who started the institution to house some Indian relics and his corset exhibit — Proutman manufactured those undergarments at one time — would buy the 600 skeletons in the Holtzman Collection.
Undoubtedly the skeletons were useful for studying a group that had indulged in extensive inbreeding, but why did this obscure museum, in a nearly dead town of 1,200 people, pay $50,000 for them? That is a question Kay Ellis, recently graduated anthropologist, is asked by her instructor before she goes to the museum to assist in cataloging the material. She never provides him with an answer.
Ellis arrives to find that the museum is owned by the relict of Proutman, a still lovely woman between 40 and 50 and for whom the word bitch was invented. She makes life hell for everyone but John Gordon, Ph.D. — him she just makes miserable — the anthropologist in charge of studying the skeletons.
When a death occurs that may be murder with a suicide following it, the sheriff is satisfied that things happened the way they seem. However, some unexplained details rouse Ellis’s curiosity, particularly since she has fallen in love with Gordon. Though she comes to learn too much, she luckily had joined the D.A.R.
This is a competently written non-fair-play mystery with an unusual setting and one of the few hands-on anthropology novels before Aaron J. Elkins’s Gideon Oliver came on the scene.
For reasons best known to herself, Wallis set No Bones About It in 1932. My theory is she did it because the coincidences and a major unlikelihood might have been even less acceptable at a later date.
The Carters, Wests, and Peckhams are, one gathers, a very proud group of families in Weston, Mass., who live in some rather odd houses. The Peckham house, for example, “smelled of owls in the attic and suicides in the cellar. It was not a house you would want to meet on a lonely road at midnight.”
When some of the younger generation return to Weston along with a mysterious movie star, Mattie Peckham, a grasping and unpleasant old lady, begins scattering hints of evil from the past involving the families. As is to be expected, Mattie isn’t around long to continue her nasty ways, she having inhaled a bit too much of the vapors of a cleaning fluid.
What Mattie’s death has to do with a suicide 12 years earlier is cleared up at the end of the book, which some readers may reach. Wallis writes well, but the plot is preposterous.
Bio-Bibliographic Data: Ruth Sawtell Wallis, when not writing mysteries was (not surprisingly) a well-known archaeologist, with a number of noteworthy accomplishments, which you can read about here, along with a small photo of her.
And of course she did write mysteries. Five in fact:
RUTH SAWTELL WALLIS, 1895-1978. Series character: Eric Lund, in those marked (*).
Too Many Bones. Dodd Mead, 1943.
No Bones About It. Dodd Mead, 1944. (*)
Blood from a Stone. Dodd Mead, 1945.
Cold Bed in the Clay. Dodd Mead, 1947. (*)
Forget My Fate. Dodd Mead, 1950. (*)