HENRY KITCHELL WEBSTER – Who Is the Next? Perennial Library, paperback reprint, 1981. First edition: Bobbs-Merrill, hardcover, 1931. Also: Garland, hardcover, 1976.

   For a book first published fifty years ago, Who Is the Next? is amazingly fresh and up-to-date. The subdued, unacknowledged love interest between a guardian and his much younger ward would not be played quite the same today, but Webster’s version of this scenario has an attraction that is both pleasing and frustrating, as it was meant to be then, and as it still is today.

   Nor would Camilla Lindstrom’s airplane be of the same model and vintage, but in the process of becoming a woman, there’s no better symbol of her budding independence, even today. Her childhood is in the process of disappearing, and as it does, her guardian, Prentiss Murray, realizes that he is falling in love with her.

   Well, of course it’s more than a love story. (Need you ask?) Camilla’s aged grandfather is murdered, and almost immediately afterward so is Miss Parsons, his newly acquired secretary and companion. Also soon on the scene is Camilla’s prodigal brother, and of course there are numerous mysterious strangers seen lurking around the estate.

   There is a good reliance on fate (on the part of the murderer), and some good detective work (on the part of the police). My only real complaint is that too much of the latter is done behind the scenes, and it comes out only in retrospect, at the end.

   But for mystery, vintage atmosphere, and romance, with one of the spunkiest heroines you’d ever want to meet, this book would be hard to beat. I read the last one hundred pages in twenty minutes. That’s three times my usual reading speed.

Rating:   A.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1981 (slightly revised).


[UPDATE] 06-28-16.   This old review was first posted on this blog in December 2014. I finished reading the book a second time last night, and while I think everything I said about it the first time is true, I found that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much this time aroud.

   First of all, it really is more of an old-fashioned romance than it is a mystery, and the young girl in the story is one of the spunkiest heroines you’d ever want to meet. I think, in fact, perhaps she may have been the first heroine in a mystery novel to fly her own airplane, which turns out to be an integral part of the plot.

   Keep in mind that has been 35 years since I’d read the book the first time, and that I’d totally forgotten it. I had in fact forgotten that I’d posted this review on this blog, and that was less than two years ago. What bothered me this time is that (a) the mystery plot promises so much and delivers so little, and (b) it still take 30 pages to explain all of the coincidences that dovetail together so nicely to make a rather unsatisfying whole.

   Tastes change over the years, and while I still read this one with enjoyment, I didn’t have the same feeling of happy contentment I seem to have had when I finished it the first time.