RUFUS KING – The Case of the Dowager’s Etchings. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1944. Previously serialized in , Redbook magazine, July-November 1943. Mystery Novel Classic #69, digest-sized paperback, no date stated. Also published as Never Walk Alone: Popular Library #362, paperback, 1951; Wildside Press, softcover, 2005.

   The word “dowager” is not one that you hear very often any more. It has a couple of closely related meanings, the first being “a widow with a title or property derived from her late husband,” while the second, more informally, is “a dignified elderly woman.” Mrs. Carrie Giles of Bridgehaven, the leading protagonist of Etchings, qualifies on both counts.

   Published in 1944, the book is less an effective work of detective fiction than it is an inside look at a certain strata of life back home during war time. In a spurt of impulsive patriotic enthusiasm, almost immediately regretted, Mrs. Giles offers rooms in her small mansion of a home to local wartime factory workers.

   Her staff, all elderly or ephemeral, such as house maid Leila, are not amused, especially once the four successful applicants, three men and a women are introduced as the new boarders. It is obvious to the reader that none of them are exactly who they say they are, but complicating matters immensely is Mrs. Giles’ discovery of a dead body in her front yard the next day.

   Even more significant to the story is that Mrs. Giles’s grandson Kent is returning home briefly home as a war hero, and all indications are, as far as Mrs. Giles is concerned, is that he may have something to do with the body of the dead man.

   Rufus King’s smooth, relaxed way of writing, with not a little humor mixed in, makes this one go down easily. Mrs. Giles does her best to perform the duties of a detective, but it is all too much for her. It is too bad that Kent is either asleep or sedated from an injury he incurs at one point in the book. If he had been able (or willing) to speak frankly, the mystery could have been solved in less than twenty minutes time.

   Be that as it may, this is an enjoyable excursion into the past, a glimpse of what it was like to be living in the US in wartime. I’m sure it’s not possible to know now for sure, but I suspect that Rufus King based Mrs. Carrie Giles on someone he knew — she seemed that real to me.