William F. Deeck

CHARLES LEE SWEM – Werewolf. Doubleday Doran/Crime Club, hardcover, 1928.

   Invited to Thistlewood, former sanitarium in New Jersey and now home to what is left of the Thistlestanc family and its odd retinue, David Lee hears the howl of a wolf and witnesses the fear of his former college roommate, Dick Thistlestane. As his visit ends, Dick asks Lee to look after his teenage sister, Jane, if anything should happen to him.

   Something does happen: Dick is ostensibly killed by his German shepherd. Convinced that the dog would not have attacked his master, Lee returns to protect the girl and discovers the family curse. Roughly, for the curse is a complex one, fifty years earlier the mother of a young man accused of being a werewolf and executed told the Thistlestanes that the real werewolf would come and kill the members of the family.

   Thistlestanes died then — and have died since — strangled by teethmarks. (Well, that’s what the book says; don’t blame me if it doesn’t make sense.)

   The author of this only mystery, for which fact we can all be grateful, was secretary to Woodrow Wilson for many years. Since Wilson enjoyed mysteries, Swem chose to write one. It’s tolerably written, to be overly kind, but the denouement is nonsense that also possesses gaping holes. Knowing what I know about Wilson, I suspect he would have found it engrossing.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 4, Winter 1990, “Beastly Murders.”