ZELDA POPKIN – Death Wears a White Gardenia. Mary Carner #1. J.B. Lippincott Co, hardcover, 1938. Dell #13, paperback (mapback edition), circa 1943.

   Although she may come close to being a PI (see comment #1), when it comes down to it, Mary Carner probably shouldn’t really be tagged as one. As Death ears a Gardenia begins, she’s the assistant to the on-staff detective at a major department store in the center of Manhattan, and her expertise is not wayward spouses nor missing heirs. It is instead shoplifters and shoplifting, a profession and occupation that’s been around as long as there have been department stores.

   But when murder occurs during a giant anniversary sale, she’s on hand throughout, offering opinions and interviewing suspects right along with the police. She’s slim and pretty, but tough-minded, and her opinions and questions are right on target, as if she’s been doing it all her life.

   Dead is the store’s credit manager, and Zelda Popkin, the author, must have had some experience working behind the scenes in such an establishment is described in picturesque detail, and is a solid part of the tale’s background. Personal relationships, and the secrets the employees have from each other and (they hope) the world as well are revealed to all in the course of the investigation.

   Popkin was a very good writer, with good insight as to how real people think and behave, but in this first book in the series, she doesn’t seem to have gotten the hang of portraying a book-length investigation and keeping things moving. The middle portion of the book deals with the ups and downs of the building’s elevators the night before, details of which are, well, boring. More attention should have been spent on the gardenia in the dead man’s hand. (Not a floor manager’s carnation.) This is what’s really important, and if they’d only asked the poor flower seller outside the store what she knew a lot earlier, the book would have been over in a third of the time, if not less.

Rating (on my well-tested HB Hardboiled scale): 2.5 (out of 10).

      The Mary Carner series —

Death Wears a White Gardenia (1938)
Time Off for Murder (1940)
Murder in the Mist (1940)
Dead Man’s Gift (1941)
No Crime for a Lady (1942)