Thu 23 Aug 2012
KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Terror by Twilight. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1942.
A little background first [keeping in mind that this review was first written in 1991]. Doubleday has been publishing “Crime Club” mysteries since 1928, and they’re still producing them [as of] today, making them the longest running line of books published under one specialized logo by any one publisher.
Several years ago I attempted the rather foolhardy task of collecting them all. (At three or four a month for well over 60 years, that’s several thousand books.) I was doing pretty well when I began to lose interest — too many titles and authors I realized I never intended to read — and I began to break up the collection I had at its peak.
I still have a large portion of the ones I’d managed to accumulate, but the Edgar Wallace’s are gone, to pick one significant example, but everything I intended to read, I kept, and every once in a while I do, as you’ve seen in these pages, and will again.
But my good friend Ellen Nehr has decided to do something even more foolhardy, and that’s to write a book that will list and annotate all of the Crime Club ever published over the years. We were talking about it over the phone the other night, discussing authors and so on — I think we’ve decided that Aaron Marc Stein (aka George Bagby) [may have] had the most books published in the line, and that Leslie Charteris’s books were published over the longest span of time — and we began to bring up other authors who must have been very popular in their day, and who are all but forgotten today.
Which is a long introduction to Terror by Twilight, by Kathleen Moore Knight, and how I recently happened to pick this one out to read. It’s the third of four Margot Blair books — Knight had other series and other characters as well, over 30 books in all — and I think it’s a prime example of a “second tier” detective puzzler, from back in the days when the puzzle was the primary reason of existence for mystery stories. The Golden Age, if you will.
Margot Blair was a partner in the public relations firm of Norman and Blair, unmarried, and in her late 30s. In the course of her job, working for specific clients, she apparently ran into murder on several occasions, and the firm began to act more and more as personal inquiry agents, if not private detectives.
In this particular case, she has been hired to buy clothes for a wealthy man’s granddaughter, which she’s been doing for over a period of several years, but never meeting the girl in person until shortly after the man’s death.
The reason the girl has been so carefully sequestered is that she has been suspected of homicidal tendencies, going into almost trance-like states and waking to find small pets killed or other children attacked.
And when her grandfather is discovered to have been poisoned, suspicion immediately points to her. Luckily Margot is on the scene — in a house crowded with other suspects — and she does not believe for a minute that her client is guilty.
Lots of suspects, lots of motive, lots of hidden agendas, and they all have to be sorted out. This is all the novel consists of. The only characterization is that which is needed to keep the story going. The puzzle is everything, and I have to confess that Kathleen Moore Knight fooled me rather badly. It’s not exactly fair-play detection — what Margot learns on page 270 is kept from the reader until much later, for example — but there are plenty of other indications as to the killer’s identity before then, and I still didn’t catch on.
Barzun & Taylor continue to amaze me. They call the Knight stories “feminine” and Margot Blair “featureless,” with no other indication they might actually have read one of them. After the “front tier” of Christie, Queen and John Dickson Carr, there were many detective writers of the 30s and 40s who are still very much readable today, and Kathleen Moore Knight is one I’m glad to recommend to you. It’s too bad that only Ellen and I ever read her any more.
[UPDATE] 08-23-12. It was quite a task, but Ellen persevered and the book I mentioned at the beginning of this review, Doubleday Crime Club Compendium 1928-1991, was published in hardcover by Offspring Press in 1992. Over 700 pages long, it also included several pages in color of some of the best of the covers. For more, read J. F. Norris’s fine review of the book here on his blog.