TODD DOWNING – The Case of the Unconquered Sisters.

Doubleday Doran/Crime Club, hardcover, 1936. UK edition: Methuen, hc, 1937.

TODD DOWNING Unconquered Sisters

   The skeleton of a professor doing sabbatical research down in Mexico is accidentally brought to light by the derailment of a train carrying a museum’s collection of archaeological relics back across the border.

    Customs official Hugh Rennert is first upon the scene, and this connection to the case, as slight as it is, seems enough to lead the American embassy in Mexico City to request his services in conducting the ensuing murder investigation.

   This is his fifth case, by the way. Customs work apparently means that you’re naturally snoopy — or is it the other way around?

   This is a curious sort of mystery, filled with wild and crazy clues, and populated by a pair of mildly eccentric expatriate ladies and their niece (beautiful), assorted servants and embassy officials, plus the remaining team of university scholars. It’s artificial, scatter-minded, and clouded by clumsy obfuscation.

   Nobody would publish such stuff today, and in a way, it’s a shame.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 4, July-Aug 1979 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 01-18-09. As a matter of fact, the folks who run the Rue Morgue Press are doing well reprinting books like this, and more success to them! In spite of my critical remarks, books like these are fun to read, and that’s a statement you should not take lightly.

   I’ve been omitting the letter grades I added to my reviews back then, but this one received a “C.” Obviously it’s not one of the classics — or you would have heard of it before now — but it’s equally not a stinkeroo from the bottom of the barrel. You can never go far wrong with a Crime Club mystery.

   As for the author, he was born in Oklahoma (Indian Territory) in 1902 of Native American (Choctaw) descent. He was the state’s “first successful writer of detective novels,” according to this website, which has a considerable amount of other information about him.

   All of the books below, in a list taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, take place in either Texas or Mexico — quite often both:

DOWNING, (George) TODD. 1902-1974.

      Murder on Tour (n.) Putnam 1933 [Hugh Rennert]
      The Cat Screams (n.) Doubleday 1934 [Hugh Rennert]
      Murder on the Tropic (n.) Doubleday 1935 [Hugh Rennert]
      Vultures in the Sky (n.) Doubleday 1935 [Hugh Rennert]


      The Case of the Unconquered Sisters (n.) Doubleday 1936 [Hugh Rennert]
      The Last Trumpet (n.) Doubleday 1937 [Hugh Rennert]
      Night Over Mexico (n.) Doubleday 1937 [Hugh Rennert]
      Death Under the Moonflower (n.) Doubleday 1938 [Peter Bounty]
      The Lazy Lawrence Murders (n.) Doubleday 1941 [Peter Bounty]

   I don’t know very much about Downing’s second series character. An online review from Time Magazine of this last book describes him as a Texas sheriff, with the mystery taking place on a train en route to Mexico.