K. G. McABEE “Dyed to Death.” Black Orchid Novella Award winner, 2015. Published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, July-August 2015.

   I don’t know about you, but I’d like to think that the winners of the Black Orchid Novella Award, sponsored by The Wolfe Pack (The Official Nero Wolfe Society), would all fall into the same general pattern of story telling as this one. That is to say, there is a crime to be solved, a detective to do it, with the story narrated by his (or her) assistant on the case.

   The setting in “Dyed to Death” is sometime in the 1920s, somewhere in the South, and dead is a mischievous minx who in her short life was a flirt (if not outright hussy) who enjoyed the hold she easily could have on any man she wanted. When her body is found, dyed purple, downstream from the local fabric and clothing mill, it is up to village constable Guy Henson to find out who did it.

   Assisting him by tagging along as he investiages and taking constant notes as he interviews possible suspects is a young teenage boy by the name of Sam Nicholson, whose chief qualification for the job is his love of reading stories in magazines such as Black Mask and being a big fan of such authors as Dashiell Hammett, Sax Rohmer and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

   As is the case in many of Rex Stout’s own stories, it isn’t the mystery itself that will be remembered most when the mystery is solved, it’s the overall ambience and the camaraderie between the two leading characters that is most likely to stay with you. This story also takes place in a time when accidents in the local mill were common, and shrugged off, even fatal ones. And when dumping purple dye into the local river as common waste was also far from a rarity.

   Unfortunately, while this tale seems to cry out for another in a series, it hasn’t happened, at least not yet. In fact this seems to be K. G.McAbee’s only major work in the realm of crime fiction. According to one online source, she’s primarily a writer of science fiction, horror, gothic, steampunk, and fantasy. But no mistake about it, this one major venture of hers into detective fiction is a good one.