I knew it would happen. I knew that if I kept reading these Patrick Quentin novels I’d find another that I’d enjoy. Because when they’re good, they’re good. Nothing amazing, to be clear, but I’ve read two that I’d enthusiastically recommend Unfortunately, that’s two out of seven so far by the writing collective that published under the Q Patrick/Jonathan Stagge/Patrick Quentin aliases. Never outright bad, mind you, but kind of shallow and uninspired; your run of the mill American mysteries of the time. And so I’ve plodded along, knocking off one or two a year, and over time I grow a little less enthusiastic. But no more, the enthusiasm is back.
SS Murder is a solid ocean cruise mystery, finding reporter Mary Llewellyn recovering from appendicitis onboard an ocean liner bound for Rio de Janiero (sea air does you good, yada yada yada). She immediately kicks off a journal, with the intent to send daily entries to her fiancé once the ship reaches a midway stop at Georgetown, Guyana (which would have been British Guiana at the time). The story is told purely in the form of these journal entries, and we’ve barely become acquainted with the first class passengers before murder strikes. During a game of bridge, a wealthy construction magnate falls victim to strychnine poisoning. Shades of Christie’s Cards on the Table (published three years later) abound: a number of spectators have come and gone over the course of the bridge game, and there’s the question of who had the opportunity to plant the poison in the deceased’s drink. Mary’s notes also capture some inexplicably clumsy plays (diagrams included), and we barely need a “had I but known” nudge to realize that they’ll play a key role in the solution.
I’ve been wanting to get back to Q Patrick ever since reading Cottage Sinister earlier this year. The author collective known as Patrick Quentin, Jonathan Stagge, and Q Patrick has been a bit of a mixed bag for me, but Cottage Sinister provided a marvelous British village mystery that felt like it could have come from the pen of Agatha Christie during her better years. The problem is that these Q Patrick books are very hard to find, much less for the price range that I’m willing to pay. When I spotted a Popular Library edition of Death for Dear Clara for cheap, I snatched it up.
The story concerns Clara Van Heuten, a respected fixture of New York high society. She runs a literary advice agency, reviewing manuscripts on the behalf of fledgling authors. The story kicks off with a day in the office, and throughout the day, Clara receives seven visitors. Her “gargoyle faced” secretary (who will later turn out to be pretty once some rouge is applied) provides witness to the comings and goings, which is a fortunate piece of evidence, since Clara ends the day slumped over her desk with a knife buried in her back. The obvious solution is that the final visitor committed the crime, but it turns out that there’s a little known rear entrance to Clara’s office. Anyone could have snuck in and committed the murder.
Man, when I came across a Popular Library paperback edition of Cottage Sinister by Q Patrick for a mere eight bucks… straight to the top of the pile. This is the first published novel by the writing collective known as Q Patrick, Patrick Quentin, and Jonathan Stagge (in this case, the early incarnation made up of Richard Webb and Martha Kelley). I’ve read one book published under each name up to now, and it was only 1939’s Q Patrick offering of Death and the Maiden that actually left me spinning. Now I rewind eight years to the first Q Patrick title – Cottage Sinister.
I’ll admit it, I was a bit thrown at first. All of the Patrick Quentin (as the collective is most commonly known) novels I’ve read up to this point have been set in the US and are thoroughly what I’d consider US Golden Age mysteries. The UK cottage setting of Cottage Sinister caught me off guard, and there was a clumsiness to the presentation of English village mystery tropes. Had these people ever actually even been to England?
This is my second novel by the author collective most commonly known as Patrick Quentin.My previous read (Death’s Old Sweet Song) was the GAD equivalent of a mindless 70s slasher flick – enjoyable for what it is, but a bit shallow throughout.I’m intrigued by Quentin nonetheless.There’s a respectably large library of books for me to track down and I can’t help but search for that elusive “next great author”.
Death and the Maiden caught my attention as one of the more consistently recommended works by Quentin.It’s a bit tricky to track down the author’s library for cheap, but I somehow managed to get my hands on this 1944 hard cover edition for a steal.