S. S. VAN DINE – The Garden Murder Case. Charles Scribner’s Sons, hardcover, 1935. Serialized in Cosmopolitan magazine, July-October, 1935. Paperback Library 52-193, paperback, February 1963.

   I left a comment on this blog a few days ago following my review of Death Stops the Bells, by Richard M. Baker, an author who it was easy to see was well-versed in the Van Dine approach to detective fiction. I didn’t care for Baker’s book very much, though, and in that comment I mentioned I was reading this one, and how much more easily Van Dine was able to keep a talky detective story moving, whereas Baker had considerable difficulty doing so.

   Sometimes, however, it is better to keep your mouth closed when talking about a book you haven’t finished yet, and this is one of those times. The first three-quarters of Garden Murder Case is very good — I haven’t changed my mind abut that — but I found the ending rushed and forced. Too much of a very complicated plot is condensed into too short a space.

   Dead is a man who had just wagered ten thousand dollars on a horse that did not even finish in the running. Suicide? Everyone but Philo Vance thinks so, and soon enough he is able to explain why. Next a nurse is attacked in a vault in the same house with a poisonous gas, then Floyd Garden’s mother is found dead from an overdose of a sleeping potion.

   All kinds of interesting questions and conflicting accusations arise, the latter between the other guests to the “betting party” at the Garden mansion, and even Vance’s lazy drawls and dropped g’s can easily be tolerated. Where the book doesn’t jell is, as I suggested earlier, is the ending. The undoing of the mystery is far too complicated, depending on chance events and events that were planned by the killer and those that didn’t happen, and Van Dine has to try too hard to make us, the reader, swallow it all.

   It is strange that I found only the one paperback reprint of this book, nor very few others reviews of it online. I suspect that I may not be the only reader who’s found this one disappointing.