Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Diamond Feather: Helen Reilly

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.


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Publisher:  Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1930.
Length:      309 pages
Format:      Hardcover
Series:       Inspector McKee, #11
Setting:      New York
Genre:       Police Procedural
Source:      I purchased my copy.



19 comments:

  1. Tracy, I didn't know some books, like this one, for instance, could be so hard to find in your neck of the woods. Hopefully, Helen Reilly's hardbacks will have made their way to the secondhand "Books by Weight" exhibition I'll be going to this weekend. Tons and tons of used books are shipped to India, from America, every year.

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    1. A lot of mystery novels of this vintage that came out in paperback are relatively easy to find, Prashant, but this book was never put out in paperback as far as I can see.

      I would love to go to the Books by Weight exhibition.

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    2. Me, too! Save a seat on the plane, Tracy, and, Prashant, can you put us up for a couple days? I've not read any of Helen Reilly's mysteries, but you've sold me on at least this one.

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    3. Wouldn't that be fun, Mathew?

      I am looking forward to finding and reading more of the early books by Reilly.

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  2. I'm with you, Tracy. I get a little tired of the 'damsel in distress' motif in stories, too. So I can see why this one would appeal to you. And isn't it great to get your hands on a hard-to-find book?

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    1. I was lucky to learn of this one, Margot.

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  3. I was the commenter who referenced The Diamond Feather. Glad you enjoyed the book. I notice that while she kept McKee as her hero throughout her career, her style would change based on what was popular in that particular decade.
    I also notice that there is a window of opportunity with books: when you spot them at a reasonable price, you have to buy them then, because if you wait you will come back and they are $100.

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    1. I am very grateful that you pointed me to this book and even to the edition I bought at AbeBooks. I will be trying to find more of the earlier books to read.

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  4. I'm not a big fan of Helen Reilly, Tracy. But your review of this particular book intrigues me. I am definitely going to read it if I can find it. :) Yeah, the romance aspect of some of these mid-century books is mind-numbing. HA!

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    1. This one definitely kept me more entertained that the others I read, Yvette, but have liked them all in one way or another.

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  5. Oops, not mid-century at all. Hadn't realized Helen Reilly was writing that early in the last century. Can't find the book at all now. Just checked. Well, I'll keep an eye out.

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    1. I hope it does show up but at a reasonable price.

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    1. There are a few vintage mysteries you have enjoyed, Cal, but I don't think this one would qualify.

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  7. Thanks very much for your informative post, and for the MysteryFile link on Helen Reilly, Tracy. This is an author I have never read, and noting your enjoyment of her first book and Mike Grost's mention that later books are weaker than earlier ones (in part because of the woman-in-jeopardy plotlines), I'm always fascinated at how authors seem to evolve (or devolve) over their careers. Perhaps a nicer word is "change," which any decent writer should do to embrace consistent creative challenge. It's interesting that one can start out a writer of police procedural and end as a Had-I-But-Known specialist...

    Best wishes -- Jason

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    1. I agree, that analysis at MysteryFile is very interesting, Jason. In this case, maybe Reilly found that novels with more romantic suspense were more successful or maybe the publishers had some influence.

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    2. That's a good point, Tracy. Reader tastes and genre trends often influence popular fiction writers as much as their own predilections and curiosities do. She might have been delivering the types of stories her readers most wanted to see, which is always a wise factor for an author to keep in mind. Cheers --

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  8. Great review, Tracy. I think I did buy one book by her. Didn't realize that damsel's in distress are her major themes. I don't care for those. Authors like Mary Stewart whose heroines save themselves kind of make it hard to go back to that kind of book. Thanks for reviewing it. I'll keep an eye out for this one. -Keishon

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    1. So far none of the books I have read by Reilly have been purely damsel in distress types, Keishon. But more so than I was prepared for. Yet I still enjoyed them. They all have enough of a police procedural aspect to entertain me. But I did consider this one superior.

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