A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Marcia Muller


MIGNON G. EBERHART – The Patient in Cabin C. Random House, hardcover, 1983. Warner Books, paperback, 1985.

   This recent Eberhart novel is typical fare. Sewall (“Sue”) Gates, a young upper-class lady whom financial reverses have forced into nurse’s training, is plucky, determined, and genuinely likes being a nurse; but now she is offered the opportunity to gain financial security for herself and her harmlessly alcoholic aunt Addie by marrying wealthy Monty Montgomery.

   Monty. an entrepreneur who describes himself as a “peddler,” is only mildly alcoholic (compared to Addie) and quite well meaning, but Sue is not at all sure she wants to marry him. And she is still undecided when she and Addie board his yacht, the Felice, for a cruise that Addie believes is planned as a celebration of his engagement to Sue.

   The yacht — a sort of seagoing version of the country estate — has a full complement of passengers: Monty’s younger half sister, Lalie, a budding alcoholic herself; Sam Wiley, a man with heart trouble from whom Monty bought the yacht; Dr. Smith, head of the hospital where Sue took her training and apparently Wiley’s personal physician; Lawson, Monty’s attorney; Juan, the steward, who is not the deferential Chicano he seems to be; and two others, whose presence is ill-advised-Stan Brooke, Sue’s former heartthrob, whom Monty hired on impulse to skipper the yacht; and Monty’s former mistress, Celia Hadley. It is a menage just made for murder — and indeed, as soon as the Felice sets sail in a thick fog, mysterious events begin to happen.

   First Monty falls overboard, and swears he was pushed.

   Sue sees the steward sharpening an evil-looking hatchet. The ship’s engines quit. The steward disappears, leaving a trail of bloodstains. Monty remakes his will in Sue’s favor and begins talking monotonously and ominously about someone being out to get him. Addie remains foolishly drunk. A storm is brewing; Sue thinks of shipwrecks and sinkings, and Addie begins seeing things that may be more than just the product of the DT’s. Finally Sue, typical Eberhart heroine that she is, begins to detect-with the usual satisfying results.

   Like all of Eberhart’ s novels, this one is well crafted and well plotted, and her fans will feel right at home with the characters and situation. Sue Gates is not very different from Eberhart’ s heroines of the 1940s, and there is a curious, somewhat refreshing innocence to this seafaring tale. Perhaps the most surprising thing about The Patient in Cabin C is that it was written in the 1980s, rather than in those more gentle days.

Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007. Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.