ANNA MARY WELLS – Murderer’s Choice. Grace Pomeroy #2. Alfred A. Knopf, hardcover, 1943. Dell #126, mapback edition. Perennial Library, paperback, 1981.

   As so few of the female detectives in mystery fiction from the 1950s and before were private eyes, it really is worth seeking out and reading about those who were. In her first book, though, Grace Pomeroy was a private nurse, and I am not clear whether in her third and final adventure she returned to her original profession or not. Nonetheless, in Murderer’s Choice she is a full-fledged private eye, whether she had any training or not. (It does not appear that she had.)

   This first case is a doozy, though. Working for the Keene Detective Agency, her client has a strange story to tell. He is one of two cousins who hated each other, from childhood on. Frank Osgood, still alive, was the weaker one, tormented by the other their whole life through. Before his death Charles Osgood, a mystery writer, told the other he was going to commit suicide but plant enough clues so that Frank would be blamed.

   But when Charles dies, his death is attributed to natural causes, he left no money behind, and there is no trace of the insurance policy he promised Frank he was going to take out on himself. Frank is waiting for the other shoe to fall, and in desperation he tells Grace the entire story.

   A story which well may be unique in the annals of detective fiction. With a beginning as intriguing as this, what follows could be a complete letdown, as far as the story is concerned, but Anna Mary Wells is fairly well up to the challenge, bringing in several other characters who are interested in knowing what happened to Charles’ money: Frank’s mother; his fiancée (and she has been for eight years); a Broadway floozy who claims she was secretly married to Charles; a housekeeper promised money in Charles’ will;and another mystery writer who claims that Charles stole many of his ideas.

   Grace gets it wrong at least once, which is probably par for the course for an amateur, but she prevails in the end. Priding herself as never having told a lie, moreover, the last line of the book is quite apt: “For a first lie,”she said judiciously, “that wasn’t bad.”

   This one isn’t a classic, but it comes close to it many ways. The hardcover is not easy to find (I found not one for sale with a jacket), but either paperback edition, one as recent as 1981, can be picked up fairly easily.


         The Grace Pomeroy series:

A Talent for Murder. Knopf 1942 [with Dr. Hillis Owen]
Murderer’s Choice. Knopf 1943
Sin of Angels. Simon & Schuster, 1948 [with Dr. Hillis Owen]