Death, My Darling Daughters – Jonathan Stagge (1945)

It’s been about two and a half years since I read Death’s Old Sweet Song by Jonathan Stagge.  Since that time I’ve read four novels by the writing collective most commonly known as Patrick Quentin, with the result being somewhat of a mixed bag.  Each book had its own moments in the sun, but I’d only enthusiastically recommend Death and The Maiden and Cottage Sinister.  It’s those two books though that have driven a hunger to find similarly satisfying reads by the authors.  It’s a difficult hunger to satisfy though, as aside from the Peter Duluth series published under the name of Patrick Quentin, you’re pretty lucky to pay less than $80 a book for any of the rest of the library.

So count me lucky that I managed to find a cheap copy of Death, My Darling Daughters.  It was published the year before Death’s Old Sweet Song, which puts it late in the run of nine Dr Westlake mysteries released under the name of Jonathan Stagge between 1936 and 1949.

We find ourselves back in Kenmore, Massachusetts; the type of bucolic small town that’s always a pleasant break from the usual US golden age settings of NYC and Los Angeles.  The Hilton family, esteemed descendants of a former Vice President of the United States, have returned to Kenmore after decades abroad, and the town is buzzing with excitement.  Amateur sleuth Dr Westlake performs a house call on the Hilton’s ailing nanny and befriends the family enough that he has a flimsy excuse to hang around once the bodies start dropping.  The first to drop is the nanny, killed by a seemingly accidental cyanide poisoning caused by silver polish on a tea kettle.

More characters die, and I have a feeling that most reviews will headline the second death.  Honestly though, it takes place two thirds of the way through the book, and in vanilla enough circumstances that if I laid it out, what more would you have to look forward to?  You see, there’s no real headline about Death, My Darling Daughters.  The mystery really boils down to a few poisonings that any of the dozen or so characters could have committed.  No murder has anything especially interesting about it, and no suspect ever has that much of an alibi.  Come the end, someone will be identified as the killer and we’ll all go on with our lives.

That doesn’t make the book bad though.  It’s a readable story with some stand apart bits – much more sexuality than I would have thought existed in mainstream literature in the 1940’s, and one somewhat memorable character – and the overall vibe is one I’d read again.  There are some insufferable parts though; a Scottish, an Austrian, and a southern US character are rendered phonetically, and in each case it is multiple excruciating pages of dialogue painfully relevant to the story.  I’ve trudged through my fair share of southern accents, but never seen anything as lazy as just sticking random w’s into words.

“Oh, evewyone was so howwid, so beastly”

Come the end of the story there’s a fake that any mystery reader should immediately see through, although the authors provide a fine slap my forehead moment when it comes to the specific detail that allows Dr Westlake to see through it beyond just intuition.  And that’s really it.  As a golden age mystery enthusiast, I doubt there’s anything for you here other than a semi-cozy New England read.  Nothing especially clever about the crimes, nothing especially clever about the solution.

The book’s title comes from the Hilton’s family’s strict upbringing of their assorted daughters, and there’s definitely an awkward flirtation between the teenage daughters and Dr Westlake, who is in his forties.  What else of note?  Oh yeah, apparently you can kill someone by tricking them into eating ground glass, although I can’t imagine how one wouldn’t notice the grit while chewing.

Anyway, this goes toward the bottom of the Patrick Quentin pile, even though it’s a smooth read.  Still, the urge to explore the author collective remains strong for some inexplicable reason.  Maybe because they’re kind of hard to collect and yet just on the cusp of obtainability.

My edition

I ended up with my first Mercury Publication Bestseller Mystery.  I’ve seen a ton of these online, including titles by authors such as Agatha Christie.  I didn’t realize the format that I was getting: these are dual column pages, meaning that any given page contains two slightly thin columns of text.  I’m going to guess that this decreases the page count by a third, and it leads to this weird experience where you’re twenty pages into the book but it feels like you’ve read a lot more than that.  Kind of the opposite of one of those large print books.

15 thoughts on “Death, My Darling Daughters – Jonathan Stagge (1945)”

  1. I’m with you! I have the same “inexplicable” urge to collect all the PQ/QP/Q.P books. As a kid, the only ones available were the first six Peter and Iris Duluth novels (the “Puzzle for . . . ” books), all with covers of beautiful women, sitting right next to the Ellery Queens that also had covers of beautiful women. (Evidently, Signet had no imagination whatsoever and figured sex sells.) I loved those six books, but time went on and I promptly gave them away and forgot about them. Over the last couple of years, I have bought them back in various forms, including a couple of the same Signets, as well as a few of the later books i never read, including Run to Death, Black Widow and My Son, the Murderer, the latter in not great shape but with a dust jacket. The only Q.Patrick novel I’ve read is xThe Grindle Nightmare, which absolutely lives up to its name; Ricky Webb was a sadist to his readers!!! Now I want to collect all the Stagges, and I have a feeling it will be impossible – unless Curtis’ book stirs up enough demand that new copies come out. I have had Death My Darling Daughters, Death’s Old Sweet Song and The Stars Spell Death for a while now, the latter two in nice editions, hard and soft cover respectively. And I just received The Scarlet Circle in a nice Popular Library edition. Today, the same edition of Turn of the Table popped up on eBay, and I bought it. But the other four seem to be somewhere mysterious, probably having lunch with Brand’s A Ring of Roses somewhere . . .

    The point is that I haven’t read any of these, and they haven’t all been consistently praised by my peers. So what the HECK are we doing, Ben????

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    1. Man, those Popular Library editions are so tempting, and I know one day I’ll have them if I’m just patient. The prices are just out of range of what I care to be spending on a book. Sure, I could buy them, and for less than I might spend on a good meal, but I just can’t. That has to be a slippery slope. And it’s frustrating because I had bids in on three of them last winter at the ridiculously low $10 mark, and then I think they went for like $18 each. But yeah, I’m cheap when it comes to books…

      And what on earth are we doing Brad? None of these Quentin books are that good, and like you say, no one’s exactly raving about them. Death and the Maiden was probably as good of the rest of them until I was caught off guard by a total unexpected misplaced assumption, and for that I sing its praises? I think that’s it though. These Quentin books are good enough that if they could just be elevated by a Christie level twist then they become something worth talking about. Speaking of, I think you should seek out Cottage Sinister, as it’s totally a long lost Christie novel.

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      1. Ben – consider reading, The Scarlet Circle. It is my favorite of the Dr. Westlake series written under the Stagge pseudonym. It benefits from the creepy atmosphere and both John at Pretty Sinister and Curtis at The Passing Tramp liked this one as well.

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      2. I just heard from eBay, and they pulled Turn of the Table from me!! The noive!! Maybe I misunderstood and the book was being big on??? I have no clue as to how that site works. Still, it’s heartening to see Scott praise The Scarlet Circle as that one is in my not little hands as we speak! As for Cottage Sinister, I could read it on Kindle easily, but there are some authors I don’t like doing that with. My first shin honkaku, The Decagon House Murders, was bought on Kindle, and it is one of my very favorites. But having read it, I’m leery about ordering a real copy. (BTW, it just got reviewed in the Sunday Times Books . . . how many years after LRI brought it out????

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        1. Heh, that’s kind of funny because after I read your post last night, I went on eBay and found a really nice edition of Turn of the Table for $9. I was thinking that it was strange that two affordable copies would be available on the same day, and figured that my attempt to buy it might fail due to being a stale post of the copy that you bought. My purchase shows as having been shipped though, so sorry if I stole your copy! Something definitely got mixed up by eBay though or the seller. I’m going to end up feeling guilty though and probably send you the copy some time down the road.

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          1. That’s actually a bit . . . weird! Is yours a Popular Library edition? After you’ve enjoyed it, you can stick it right by your copy of A Ring of Roses . . .

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              1. How’s this for a deepening mystery . . . after receiving an e-mail telling me it was no longer available, I just received my copy of Turn of the Table in the mail. So you won’t have to desert your family and search the world over for one.

                On second thought, I still need A Ring of Roses . . . . .

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                1. After your last post I was certain that you had received the copy that I paid for, in the ultimate double mix up. Well, I actually received my copy today. I’m mind blown. I’ve been keeping an eye out for these books for a while now, and two copies of a Popular Library edition Jonathan Stagge novel show up on the same day for less than $10?!?!?!?!

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  2. I enjoyed this one much more than you did. Though I agree that much of the book is quite serviceable but not masterly as a mystery, it is the emotional shock at the end that elevates this book well above the average mystery for me. I found it quite moving, just as I did some revelations about one of the main characters in Death and the Maiden.

    For what it’s worth, I also enjoyed the Scarlet Circle very much, though for different reasons.

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