KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT – Port of Seven Strangers.

Detective Book Club; hardcover reprint [3-in-1 edition], November 1945. First edition: Doubleday/Crime Club, 1945. Paperback: Armed Services Edition 1123. Reprinted in Two Complete Detective Books, No. 41, November 1946.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT Port of Seven Strangers.

   This one was disappointing. In a span of 25 years, beginning in 1935 and ending in 1960, Knight wrote 30 to 35 mysteries, most under her own name, but there were a handful that appeared under her alternate byline of Alan Amos as well. The ones I remember most featured Elisha Macomber, a rustic Cape Cod selectman who did a lot of crime-solving on the side. It’s been a while, so the details escape me, but I always enjoyed them.

   Not so this one. The ingredients are all there, and it starts out in fine fashion: an all-but-deserted tourist hotel in Vera Cruz during the stormy season, partly filled with an assorted group of vacationers, plus a foursome of stranded wartime American fliers, an invalid old man unable to leave, and a young European woman named Lorel (or perhaps Elise) whose beauty draws men like moths to the proverbial flame. (*)

   The first murder happens right away, but it’s hushed up almost right away. Two are more difficult to manage: a second body is found in the room of Gail Warren from Boston, who until then had been happily sharing an almost-at-first-sight mutual attraction with Lieutenant January (one of the aforementioned fliers). The local constabulary, a stout, dark man named Sanchez, seems convinced of the lady’s guilt, which of course we (the reader) know to be complete nonsense.

KATHLEEN MOORE KNIGHT Port of Seven Strangers.

   All the right stuff. Everything’s in place. Sit back and enjoy … but the plot needs some tinkering with. As it is, it just doesn’t work. Gail has the feeling that the murder was committed in the room next door (she heard a strange sound while finding her wrap). No one wonders (too much) why the body is in her room.

   Later, after she is pushed down some dark empty steps, events become even more impossible to follow: why was she abandoned with two people she does not even know, where is her aunt who has been traveling with her, who was it who killed Lorenzo (who turns out to be a parrot), and when Lorel is murdered in turn, it appears to be the last anyone thinks of her.

   It might have all been untangled, but no. Knight has a twist or two up her sleeve, and one of them just doesn’t gibe with how the events were said to have happened in Chapter One. There would be a clever way to have worked around this, one that someone named Christie could pulled off easily, but Knight seems to have missed the mark on this altogether.

   As I say, a disappointment, but given the chance to read another of her books, do you know what? I’d still grab it.

— July 2002

(*) Yes, I know. Clich├ęs are supposed to be avoided like the plague.