C. M. CHAN “The Dressing Table Murder.” Novelette. Jack Gibbons & Phillip Bethancourt #1. First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, July 1994. Reprinted in Murder Most Cozy: Mysteries in the Classic Tradition, edited by Cynthia Manson (Signet, paperback, January 1993. Also available individually on Amazon Kindle. June 2016.

   Jack Gibbons is a Detective Sergeant based in Scotland Yard, while his close friend Phillip Bethancourt is the brilliant idle rich amateur who is allowed to follow along on his difficult cases as someone to bounce theories off of. Well, it’s actually more than that. It’s Bethancourt who is the more likely to come up with the theories and insight that Gibbons finds he does not always have on his own.  The former is more likely to let the latter do all of the footwork.

   In “The Dressing Table Murder,” their first recorded case together, a woman has been found dead in front of her bedroom mirror, killed by an instantaneously acting poison while putting her makeup on for the day . The reason I’ve called this a locked room mystery is that there is no food or drink in the room with her that contains any poison. The only other person in the house is the maid, who was in sight of the front door at all times, and the back door of the house is locked.

   The two detectives do not spend a lot of time working on this aspect of the case, however. Most of their investigation is spent on confirming alibis of the various members of her immediate family – it seems unlikely she would allow anyone else to get close to her at her dressing table – and their finances, or the lack of them. Only after exhausting all of the possible lead sin this direction do they get back to the “how” of the matter, which is neatly done — but largely by a modest amount of misdirection by the author.

   The two detectives do make for a most congenial pair, and their first case together is smoothly told. This was the first of twelve short works they shared detective duties on, all appearing in AHMM up through the May 2002 issue. A few years later they started to appear together again in paperback novels, four in all, beginning with The Young Widow in 2005, all under the author’s full name, Cassandra Chan.