Sunday, January 4, 2015

well, that's time I'll never get back: Sound Alibi, by Maribel Edwin (from my obscure women crime writer project)

Hillman-Curl, Inc., 1938
288 pp

hardcover

"...a shot in the dark sounds to me like murder. That's what comes of reading thrillers." 

Sound Alibi is book number five in my ongoing project of discovering and reading the work of obscure/forgotten women crime novelists, and it was not, I repeat, not a pleasurable experience.  Had I not been so set on finishing it I probably would have put it aside, and moved on to the next book. But stuck with it I did, it's over and well, as I said at the outset, that's time I'll never get back. This book actually gave me a headache. It  was so slow and so repetitive that at one point I remember thinking a fork in my eye would have given me less pain.

First things first. The history:

About Maribel Edwin there seems to have been not a whole lot written.  When I googled her, one of the links I found was a pdf of an old journal called The Bookman. A small article in the December, 1933 edition reveals that Maribel Edwin was the daughter of  "the late" Sir J. Arthur Thomson, who evidently died that year. Thomson was a scientist, a naturalist; from what little I can gather.  Writing under the pseudonym of Maribel Edwin, the daughter  seems to have followed in her dad's love-of-nature footsteps, writing children's stories grounded in nature, several nature books (including a yearly publication called Nature's Year), and apparently, since she wrote this book, she must have also dabbled a little in mystery, although I've done a lot of looking and have yet to come up with any more crime/mystery novels she's written.

  Sound Alibi was written in 1938 and was a part of the original Hillman-Curl Clue Club, started in 1937. I LOVE finding these old books!

 This made me laugh: a so-called detective story readers' "bill of rights" which promised the following:
"1.  A Clue Club Mystery must have an exciting plot which is intrinsically interesting aside from the actual solution of the crime."  (this one didn't)

2.  All characters must be well-drawn flesh and blood people whose prototypes can be found in everyday life.  (okay, I'll go along with this one)

3.  The actual perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime or crimes must be prominent characters introduced early in the narrative.  (check)

4.  All purposely misleading circumstances must be carefully avoided.  (okey-dokey)

5.  The crime or crimes must be solved by logical deduction derived from material clearly presented to the reader without the aid of supernatural devices or psychic power."  (check)
Too many years have gone by for me to get my money back (and let's face it, they're probably LONG out of business anyway).

Then, a promise:  "Under this imprint Hillman-Curl, Inc., publishes each month outstanding mystery novels by distinguished writers.  The sign of the skull is a guarantee that the book is original and well-written." So I quickly checked the spine and sure enough, mine has a skull.  Again. Too late to sue for misrepresentation.
The best thing about this book was finding  this website I've been quoting from -- there are a LOT of other books I need to find and to read, if only to see if Sound Alibi was a fluke. Perhaps there were some really good mysteries/crime novels that were part of the Clue Club and this one was an aberration.

 But now, onto the book itself. Sound Alibi is another mystery novel written in the interwar years, and is also another example of the good old "English country house" murder.  The head of household at Dolphin Court is Dr. Quintin Grey, who is renown for his studies on heredity, specializing in "the inheritance of criminal tendencies."  Grey has been blind for several years now, and since coming to Dolphin Court (left to him by a wealthy uncle), he spends much more time dealing with flowers than criminals. He does, however, have a soft spot for rehabilitated criminals, and often helps to find them work. On a day when daughter Jenny has brought home a friend, Philip Westland, Grey's secretary Cuthbertson (aka "Stuffy) keeps telling Grey that he needs to have a word, but Grey is too busy and tells Cuthbertson that he'll see him at 9:15 that evening.  But Cuthbertson never gets to tell Grey whatever it was that was on his mind, because just as Grey is about to go and find him, a shot rings out and Cuthbertson is dead. The remainder of the novel is of course, the investigation into his murder -- and as the Inspector is going about his business, it seems that everyone at Dolphin Court has a very "sound alibi."  The Inspector has a long list of suspects to go through, and as he starts his questioning, it becomes apparent that each and every person at the house is holding back his or her share of secrets.

  This book is a true whodunit in every sense of the word.  The identity of the killer is not revealed until very near the end (which is a plus), and I didn't guess the solution (a double plus) because of a series of red herrings and a shortlist of suspects as well.  Thankfully the puzzle is a good one, but it's the getting to its solution that killed me. If ever there was a book that could labeled as "dull" it's definitely this one, and I don't often have that experience while reading these old novels. I wanted to skim so badly, but figured I'd miss something, so I stuck to it. However, after finishing it, I can easily say  it's a skipper, meaning even the most ardent fan of these old, obscure mysteries could go through life, never read it, and he/she wouldn't have missed a thing. I find that a little sad, actually, since up to now I was having such a great time with these old forgotten books.  



2 comments:

  1. As a reader/friend advised me on New Year's Eve, don't keep reading a book you're not enjoying. There are just so many books out there to read that are better. Also, just skip to the back and find out the solution is my suggestion in a whodunnit.

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    Replies
    1. LOL. I just can't! Larry can do that but it's sort of an unwritten code for me to never skip to the end.

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