William F. Deeck

PETER HUNT – Murders at Scandal House. D. Appleton-Century, hardcover, 1933; Dell #42, paperback, mapback edition, no date [1944].

PETER HUNT Murders at Scandal House

   In this, the first novel featuring Alan Miller, chief of police of Totten Ferry, Conn., when he isn’t doing his various other jobs, Miller is on a vacation he feels he doesn’t need and is definitely not enjoying the Adirondacks. Who could blame him if his description of the mosquitos, flies, and gnats is accurate?

   In fact, the mosquitoes are the first murder weapon in the novel. Miller and a game warden check out some overactive buzzards and find a man tied to a tree, drained of blood and filled with poison by the mosquitoes. This is a first in my reading of mysteries, and I hope it’s a last. I can’t think of many less pleasant ways to die.

   The dead man was a chauffeur at the Balmoral Camp, inhabited by Lydia Whyte-Burrell, relict of the unlamented Edgar Burrell, infamous for his evil ways and his various by-blows, some of Burrell’s relatives, various hangers-on, and servants.

   Though not a genuine detective, Miller is asked to investigate since the police are focusing on the more obvious but unlikely suspects. When asked how he is going to operate, Miller replies:

   Prowl a bit, and hope a great deal, and not ask too many questions. Murderers seldom tell the truth. The more clever questions I might ask, the less I would probably find out. If a man plans a killing, he plans an alibi and a reasonable accounting of himself, and that sort of thing only confuses me. Besides, the duller I seem to be, the more careless the murderer will be. Therefore, I shan’t be very bright. I’m not at all bright by nature, so it saves me a lot of effort. Now you know my method.

   In a review of the second novel by Hunt, Murder for Breakfast, in another publication, I said that Miller, though out of his depth professionally — remember, he is only a part-time policeman — is nonetheless an intelligent man with a sense of humor. That is still true here in a not-strictly-fair-play novel.

   For those who may be interested, Hunt was a combination of George Worthing Yates and Charles Hunt Marshall.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 4, Fall 1992.

NOTE:   The third and final book in the Alan Miller series was Murder Among the Nudists (Vanguard, 1934). (If the title sounds just a little intriguing, too bad. A quick check on the Internet showed that currently there are no copies up for sale.)