William F. Deeck

STUART PALMER – The Puzzle of the Silver Persian. Doubleday/Crime Club, hardcover, 1934. Dell #18, paperback, mapback edition, 1943. Bantam, paperback, 1986. Rue Morgue Press, trade paperback, 2010.

   Miss Hildegarde Withers is spending the reward money from the last investigation she was involved in on a trip to Europe.

   Unfortunately, she is seasick the first few days of the voyage and misses out on the activities that presumably drive a young lady to suicide by leaping off the ship six hundred miles from shore.

   Or was the young lady pushed or pulled off the ship? The bar steward is accused of murdering her and takes cyanide in full view of the police. This clears up the case, in the minds of some.

   Later on, however, the ship’s passengers who dined at the table with the no-longer-presumed suicide start getting black-bordered warnings. Then one of her tablemates dies, seemingly by accident. Another comes near death by poisoned cigarettes, obviously not a fortuitous circumstance.

   Miss Withers investigates — and mucks it up, as far as I’m concerned. She also, at least in this novel, is a creature without personality. Stuart Palmer, it would seem, assumes either that his readers will know Miss Withers well and he doesn’t have to expend energy establishing her reality or that it really doesn’t matter if she’s not a distinct individual.

   Also not believable is the pharmacopeia aboard the ship. It contains potassium of cyanide and, apparently, sodium of cyanide. What fearsome distempers these are intended to cure is left to the imagination.

   There is, in addition, a chief inspector of Scotland Yard who tastes the contents of the jar in which the potassium of cyanide is supposed to be. A trifle foolhardy, one would think.

   For puzzle lovers — and those who like novels in which cats figure prominently — only.

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