Fri 23 Aug 2013
William F. Deeck
E. L. WITHERS – Diminishing Returns. Holt Rinehart & Winston, hardcover, 1960. Permabook M-4203, paperback, 1961.
Six people are having a nightcap. All are poisoned, but only one dies. Then the other five start dying one by one the next time they get together in ways that are made to appear accidental.
An excellent plot here. Unfortunately, Withers is not able to carry it out without gaping flaws.
The poison used in the first instance is arsenic, which the author thinks acts almost immediately upon ingestion. There is no explanation for the efforts to make the later deaths appear to be accidents when it is obvious — well, fairly obvious — that the poisoning was murder. One “accidental” death is from a broken neck; possible, to be sure, but most unlikely as described. There are other problems that will be left to the keen-eyed reader to spot.
To make up for the somewhat strained logic, Withers provides a most delightful detective — this is his only appearance, alas — named Weatherby, who seems to have no first name.
Weatherby is a retired lawyer, probably a septuagenarian, who likes to sleep until noon and stay up late, who smokes a lot and drinks a great deal, leading to “a slight fuzziness which was always urbane and gentle and good-humored.” He also has no desire “to walk when he could stand still, or to stand still when he could sit, or to sit when he could recline.”
Read this for the “little old man” detective.
Bibliography: (Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.)
E. L. WITHERS. Pseudonym of George William Potter, Jr., 1930-2010.
The House on the Beach. Rinehart 1957
The Salazar Grant. Rinehart 1959
Diminishing Returns. Rinehart 1960
Heir Apparent. Doubleday 1961
The Birthday. Doubleday 1962