ANNE ROWE – Up to the Hilt.

Detective Book Club; hardcover reprint [3-in-1 edition], November 1945. First edition: M. S. Mill, hardcover, 1945. Other hardcover reprint: Grosset & Dunlap, no date (cover shown).

   To quote Inspector Barry on page 55: “Society murders are a pain in the neck.” I don’t know whether all of Anne Rowe’s mysteries take place in the same milieu (I always wanted to use that word), but after one she wrote early on in her career, in 1930, to be precise, she became prolific later on, producing a total of seven in the years between 1941 and 1946.

ANNE ROWE Up to the Hilt

   Barry is in three of these, including this one, of course, and an Inspector Josiah Pettingill is in three of the others. Pettingill’s cases all seem to take place in Maine. Inspector Barry seems to be a New York City and suburban Connecticut sort of guy.

   Telling the story in this one is Jane Applebee, head of a literary agency inherited from her aunt, and dead is one of her leading clients, a lady whose luster, though, had been fading. Living in an apartment on the top floor of a converted Manhattan loft building, Jane has many friends, neighbors, relatives (two sisters) and (sort of) a new boy friend, one Dr. Hunt Berwick, a somewhat mysterious man who has connections enough (it seems) to become an advisor to the aforementioned Inspector Barry.

   This is another old-fashioned detective story, and they surely don’t write them like this any more, where even with the wide range of characters, both leading and walk-on, the focus is on the mystery, and little else. On page 19 there is even a diagram of the layout of Jane’s entire floor, with the warning on the page opposite that it is going to prove important later.

   And yes, it does, but you have to read Jane’s description also, as the map does not include precisely and exactly what it should. The story is crisply told, though, and if you can forgive the inspector for making Jane his right-hand lady, filling her in (and therefore us, the reader) with certain details we shouldn’t have been able to ascertain otherwise, it’s quite enjoyable.

   Another small problem, if that is what it is, and I almost hate bringing it up, is that after two more murders, there are surprisingly few candidates left to be the killer. One is obvious, the other is not, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else. (You always exclude the maids, don’t you?)

   The 1940s Manhattan set is not the sort of society I’ve ever mixed in, as I’ve probably said before, and it’s surely too late now, but this is the kind of mystery that sneaks me into it, so to speak, and with all of smart deducing going on, what it does is serve up a heaping amount of vicarious pleasure, double-portioned.

— July 2002 (slightly revised)

[UPDATE] 10-29-08. I’ve reviewed one other book by Anne Rowe previously on this blog, one called Too Much Poison (1944), and yes, it takes place in the same wartime Manhattan social set.

   Along with it I included a complete bibliography for her, so I won’t repeat it here. Inspector Barry was in that one, too, and if I made either it or this one sound like your kind of detective story, then I think it most probably is. In fact, I guarantee it.