Sat 12 Jan 2013
William F. Deeck
JEAN LILLY – Death Thumbs a Ride. Dutton, hardcover, 1940. Black Cat Detective Series #6, digest-sized paperback, 1943.
“Two murders would probably have gone unsuspected during the last year if Eunice Hale had not eaten a chicken croquette of questionable virtue.” The two murders were the death of a woman, of apparently natural causes, at a tourist camp in the Adirondacks and the presumed hit-and-run death of a senator’s gardener in the same area.
Even with the aid of the chicken croquette they would have remained unsuspected except for the interest of vacationing district attorney Bruce Perkins, who is asked to investigate a jewel theft but prefers to find the alleged hit-and-run driver and begins to doubt the naturalness of the woman’s death.
While the opening sentence is a good one, the rest of the prose does not get any better than slightly above pedestrian and the characters are essentially lifeless. Lilly somewhat makes up for this with her primary setting, unusual in mysteries, I believe: a lower-middle-class tourist camp. (Could there be such a thing as an upper-class tourist camp?)
Lilly also provides a, for the most part, fair-play mystery. For the most part, I say, since I could find no explanation, and I certainly couldn’t figure out how the gardener died, or even if it was murder. Maybe the Black Cat publication was abridged and the publisher neglected to mention it.
Bibliographic Notes: Death Thumbs a Ride was the last of three recorded cases for DA Bruce Perkins, and the last of four crime novels written by Jean Lilly:
LILLY, JEAN (McCoy), 1886-1961. Born in Milford, Michigan; died in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.
The Seven Sisters (n.) Dutton 1928 [Connecticut]
False Face (n.) Dutton 1929 [Bruce Perkins; Academia]
Death in B-Minor (n.) Dutton 1934 [Bruce Perkins; Long Island, NY]
Death Thumbs a Ride (n.) Dutton 1940 [Bruce Perkins; New York]
Thanks to Allen J. Hubin and Crime Fiction IV for the above information. Also note that the contemporaneous Kirkus review suggests that there are no loose ends, at least in the hardcover edition.