Thu 2 Oct 2014
William F. Deeck
MARGARET ARMSTRONG – The Man with No Face. Random House, hardcover, 1940. Tower, hardcover reprint, 1943 [cover shown]. Bestseller Mystery #B30, digest-sized paperback, abridged, no date .
— The Blue Santo Murder Mystery. Random House, hardcover, 1941. Detective Novel Classic #12, digest-sized paperback, 1942.
Though they are no kin of his, Donald Bell of Australia leaves his fortune to “the descendants of Robert Bell of Irongray,” Scotland. The reader learns of the disappointment of Percy McGuire, Bell’s stepson and something of a rotter, and then it’s off to the States to meet Clare Beaumont. But only briefly. For she commits suicide shortly after we make her acquaintance.
Minion Marbury, who had been on the point of proposing to Clare for five years, and Jim Northcote, who was painting her portrait, are certain the suicide verdict is false. Clare was quite happy and had recently become excited over her discovery that she was descended from the Bells of Irongray.
Despite their amateur status, Marbury and Northcote investigate those who might have thought they would profit from Clare’s death and discover that her relatives, though quite distant, are themselves expiring through various ostensible accidents.
Those who admire Philip MacDonald’s The List of Adrian Messenger should enjoy this novel. It isn’t quite as good as MacDonald’s — not many novels are — but it was earlier and does not suffer too much in comparison.
Something of a disappointment is Armstrong’s third novel — Murder in Stained Glass (1939) was the first — The Blue Santo Murder Mystery. The setting is an interesting one — Tecos, New Mexico, which I presume is actually Taos — but the disappearance of Louisa Kearney-Pine, richest woman in the world, from the Blue Santo Hotel does not grab the reader since all the characters are insipid.
An occasional good paragraph, for example the description of Kansas as viewed by a train rider, does not make up for the novel’s drawbacks. Of interest, I’d say, only to the regional collector.
Editorial Note: Margaret Armstrong (1867-1944) has only the the three entries in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV.