William F. Deeck

FRANCES DUNCOMBE – Death of a Spinster. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1958.

   Dee Galbraith, trained as an anthropologist but working part time as bookkeeper in a charity consignment shop in Byfield Center in upper Westchester, decides to do an anthropological study of the town. A woman who also worked in the shop but whom Mrs. Galbra!th had never met commits suicide there.

   From the data that Mrs. Galbraith accumulates in her survey, it becomes evident to her, though not to the police nor, I confess, to me, that the woman was actually murdered.

   Byfield Center is fairly inbred, close knit at the top, protective of certain of its own, and well supplied with gossips. Mrs. Galbraith’s views become widely known, her step-daughter is bad|y injured by a hit-and-run driver, and an attempt is made on her own life. Someone obviously thinks she knows more than she actually does.

   The novel — a first and, unfortunately, a last — is well written, and Mrs. Galbraith is a most believable heroine. She is intelligent but subject to blind spots. She does go to the police, but when they fail to appreciate her information, she continues to investigate.

   All of her actions, with the exception of her eluding her protectors at the end of the book, are reasonable — that is to say, human and thus occasionally fallible. This is not a novel with a puzzle that most readers will be able to solve, but it is worth reading to discover Dee Galbraith and an interesting study of a small community.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 4, July-August 1987.