Sat 29 Sep 2012
KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Footbridge to Death. Doubleday/Crime Club, hardcover, 1947.
What I said about “overwrought prose” [in my recent review of Sea Fever, by Ann Cleeves] goes double for this one, but along with it is a plot that’s complex and totally satisfying as an honest-to-goodness detective novel. I’ll go so far as to say that books like this are the reason I started reading mystery fiction in the first place.
This is an Elisha Macomber story — he’s Chairman of The Board of Selectmen on Penworthy Island, somewhere off New Bedford on the Massachusetts mainland, and while they do have a police force, when it comes to murder, he’s the detective in charge — a warm-hearted philosopher-psychologist who’s as hard-boiled as anyone when it comes to finding out the facts in the case.
There is a prologue in the book — you may be interested in knowing — but this time it’s one that’s there for a reason, and that’s to keep us on our toes. We know as soon as Elisha does that Mme Caron, the newly arrived Frenchwoman on the island, is suspected of aiding and abetting the enemy when she was in Europe — and that’s enough to keep you guessing: is this an espionage story, or is it one of merely domestic violence?
There is a marriage in trouble, in other words, preceded by a broken railing on a bridge, an attempted poisoning, then murder followed by another — surprisingly, this one that of one of the leading suspects in the first. No one liked the second victim very much, and any one of them could have done it, as well as various and sundry townspeople with a stake in either the family fortune or the fortunes of war.
The atmosphere (and prose) is often dark and brooding, a perfect reflection of the post-war years — reunions not always being the happy affairs they’re cracked up to be. But detective novels like this are very much like the old shell game. You’ve got to keep your mind on the story as well, or (like me, at least in part) you’re bound to find yourself snookered again.
[UPDATE] 09-28-12. Most of the revisions were small ones. I was tempted to cut down on my own overwrought prose, but for the most part, I resisted. I did make some changes to clarify certain matters regarding the plot, or at least I hope I did.
The crack I made about prologues is a carryover from several reviews in earlier issues of Mystery*File, in which I expressed my extreme distaste for them. For now, I’ll leave it at that. If the reviews I’m referring to ever show up on the blog, we’ll revisit the idea.
Previously on this blog:
Terror by Twilight [reviewed by me]
Borderline Murder, as by Alan Amos [reviewed by Ray O'Leary]
The Trouble at Turkey Hill [reviewed by me; includes a list of all the Elisha Macomber titles]
Port of Seven Strangers [reviewed by me]