William F. Deeck

RUFUS KING – Museum Piece No. 13. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1946. Reprint paperback: Bantam , 1847, as Secret Beyond the Door. Film: Universal International, 1948, as Secret Beyond the Door (with Joan Bennett & Michael Redgrave; director: Fritz Lang).

RUFUS KING Museum Piece No. 13

   Bantam Books describes this novel accurately as “suspense.” A wealthy widow is cajoled into a frenzy or falls in love at first sight, or something like that, with a publishing tycoon, himself a widower.

   She apparently feels that he will be like her first husband, a dedicated coupon clipper who devoted himself to her.

   Her bankers, who cannot turn over her money to her unless she marries a suitable man — for which read “rich” — hurriedly give their imprimatur, though the tycoon would have been found to be in dire need of a fresh infusion of cash to keep his newspaper going if they had investigated a bit more thoroughly. She, with substantial wealth, would appear to have no lawyers to advise her.

   After the whirlwind courtship — time not specified, but it probably was no more than a month, and possibly less — he marries her and leaves the next day on a business trip. (No information is given whether the marriage was consummated. I’d tend to think it wasn’t.)

   The tycoon collects rooms in which murders have taken place, buying them and moving them to his mansion intact, apparently even to the dust that was present at the time he bought them. Although the tycoon delights in giving tours of his collection, he does not allow a thirteenth room, recently finished, to be viewed by anyone.

RUFUS KING Museum Piece No. 13

   It is obvious that the man is interested only in his new wife’s money, and even she dimly begins to recognize this when she moves into his home with his strange sister, brother-in-law, secretary who wears a veil to cover a scar that doesn’t exist, neurotic son, and a an egocentric star reporter.

   Acting on advice of a psychiatrist who is making judgments on the woman’s quite limited and mostly wrong knowledge of the tycoon and on almost no knowledge of the woman, the tycoon’s new wife checks out room No. 13.

   Although her husband, when he’s around at all, and the household are often out during the day, she needs must select 4 a.m. for her trip to the mysterious room.

   King’s writing style is sometimes convoluted: “Both parents having been of the old-fashioned school which brooked no trifling with the mathematical gymnastics of the marriage vows in adding one to one and getting one, with all the sum’s attendant surfeiture of the unpictorial effects of contiguity and general minor inconveniences. Like when you wanted to read at night. Or when you didn’t.”

   There are those who will master that at first reading. I am not one of them. But if you like that sort of thing, and I admittedly do, there’s a fair amount of it here.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.

RUFUS KING Museum Piece No. 13