Wednesday, June 17, 2015

back to the past: #13: The Will and the Deed, by Dorothy Ogburn

Wildside Books
originally published 1935, Dodd, Mead and Company
264 pp

paperback (reproduction of original)

I'll just say that most of this book was entertaining, but when it came down to the last few chapters, I would have poured myself something very strong to take away the reading pain had it not been so early in the day.  Oy!  Talk about convoluted!

About the  author.  Dorothy Ogburn (née Stevens), was born in 1890 and died in 1981. She was married in 1910 to Charlton Ogburn; in the 1920s she began writing mystery novels. She wrote three (Death on the Mountain, 1931;  Ra-Ta-Plan, 1931; and then The Will and the Deed, 1935) before she and her husband became devotées of the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare's identity.  She co-authored a book about the topic with her husband, but after her husband had some kind of debilitating illness, Dorothy went on to write a book on her own, Shake-speare: Behind the Name, published in 1961, and by 1973, when she could no longer read, she'd nearly finished writing another book, Elizabeth and Shakespeare.

The Wildside edition I have has reproduced the original 1935 edition and at the back I discovered a little treasure: the logo designating this book as being part of the Red Badge Detective series.  As I've recently discovered, this was the imprint for Dodd, Mead's mystery lists; just as an interesting sidebar, I'll add the following from an article I found online (bemoaning the fact that these imprints no longer exist):
"Simon & Schuster had an imprint called Inner Sanctum Mysteries, Doubleday had the Crime Club, Dodd Mead had Red Badge Mysteries, Macmillan had Cock Robin Mysteries, and Holt had Rinehart Suspense Novels."
So now, I guess, I have to find all of the Red Badge titles. It's just what I now feel compelled to do.  But moving right along, back to The Will and the Deed.  

This is another country-house sort of mystery, taking place at Thanksgiving at a home called Stonecliffe "not sixty miles from the City of New York." The Walters family and sundry others have been "convened" so that they could hear the reading of the late patriarch's will.  They get a bit of a jolt when they discover that the family attorney isn't going to read the document, but rather it's the old man himself who's going to do it via the medium of film.  Yes, that's right folks, they set up the projector and let grandpa tell each family member (and the faithful retainers) who's getting what.  Well, after the grumbling's over when people got much less than they thought they'd be getting, it isn't long until devoted daughter Ollie Walters Neville (married to Lester) decides that everyone should clear out and then falls from the library balcony to her death.  The family is outwardly convinced it had to have been suicide, but a witness who happened to look up and see two shadows in the library window that night says otherwise. A detective is sent to the home to investigate, and besides the fact that everyone swears that she'd gone "gaga," even to the point of having to spend time in a hospital for her condition, he's not so sure that she actually did herself in.   The family, of course, is resentful of the police intrusion, and refuse to co-operate.   However, while he's there,  there is a robbery, an attempted murder and another death which sort of nullifies the idea of Ollie having taken her own life.

As I said earlier, it's the very last part of this book that drove me crazy. The first half wasn't too bad, and actually presented a good mystery and some family secrets that were revealed along the way.  There is an entire house filled with possible suspects from which to choose, and as it turns out, I totally got the rationale behind the murderer's motive once all was revealed. But when it came down to those last few chapters, it became such a tangle of strange subplots (involving among other things, a séance, a gun loaded with blanks and hypnotism)  that I had to read these pages twice.  Another thing: I'm very used to stilted language from early mystery novels, but I must say, this one absolutely takes the cake for archaic  throughout the book.  The long and short of it is that  no one should have to work that hard to read the last few chapters in a mystery novel.

Still, it's another female mystery novelist  I hadn't previously heard of, so I'm quite happy to have discovered her and to have read her work. Plus, I do have this enduring fondness for country-house murders, so it's another one to add to the list, once I start keeping one!  That's another whole project for another day.  Anyway -- if you're into obscure country-house murder mysteries, I'd say read it, but beware of the last few chapters, and maybe read it after 5 pm so you can help your headache and confusion with a nice martini or something.


  1. Nancy, I love how you branch out and discover obscure writers of worth; it makes it more interesting to view this genre in other manner than being a THRILLER/Slasher, get-it-trough fast....

    1. thank you! I literally have hundreds of crime novels waiting for me, so it's always fun to find something new. It's not always a positive experience, but I love to explore. Time is just not my friend.


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