Roger Cram was visited by Godfrey Thorne right before he died, and Roger was left with a piece of jewelry called the diamond feather. It is a family heirloom, designed in the shape of a peacock feather, which Godfrey had taken to pawn only to discover that it was a fake. Later Roger visits Thorne's family to return the diamond feather to Godfrey's mother. While Roger is at Greystone, the family estate in New York, a family member is murdered.
The story is told mainly from Roger's viewpoint; he stays on at the Thorne mansion after the death not because he is an old friend of the family, but because Inspector McKee, the policeman in charge of the investigation, asks him to. McKee wants a source of information on the family and their actions. Roger's only connection to the family was Godfrey, and thus he is an outsider, not necessarily resented, but not welcomed either. He does get very involved with the investigation in a amateur role, so he and Inspector McKee share center stage in the activities. There is a small circle of suspects, but the plot is exceedingly complex, and lots of red herrings.
Of the four mysteries by Helen Reilly that I have read, this is my favorite. The story had me under a spell and I would gladly have stayed up all night to finish the book. That might be because this was closer to a police procedural and had much less of the "damsel in distress" element than I noticed in previous books. And less romance.
From what I have read, the first books in the Inspector McKee series were more straightforward police procedurals, as this one is. Police procedurals vary quite a bit as to how much detail of police work is included, and this seems to be true in this series. Later on the books entered the "had I but known" territory, and all the others I have read were much more centered on romantic involvements. This is discussed in some detail in an extensive article at Mystery*File written by Mike Grost and at a post on The Doll's Trunk Murder at Killer Covers of the Week.
This book is not easy to find at an affordable price. When I reviewed Mourned on Sunday, a commenter noted that The Diamond Feather was the first book in the series. I had never heard of that one. I found a hardback with no dust jacket for $25 at AbeBooks.com, and decided that was acceptable under the circumstances. Right now at that site there are two copies available, both with dust jackets, one for $100, the other for $300. I am now very glad I purchased the book because I enjoyed it so much. It doesn't always work out so well with first books in a series.
This book is my selection for a book published in 1930 for the Crimes of the Century meme, hosted by Rich at Past Offences. It is also my second book read for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI event. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery, suspense, dark fantasy, and horror, and continues through the end of October.
Publisher: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930.
Length: 309 pages
Series: Inspector McKee, #11
Setting: New York
Genre: Police Procedural
Source: I purchased my copy.