Wednesday, December 11, 2019

The Black-Headed Pins: Constance and Gwenyth Little

Leigh Smith's father died and she had no money at all. Miserly Mrs. Ballinger moved to a big house in the country, and offered Leigh a job as companion and housekeeper, or as "Smithy" puts it, "general slave." Mrs. Ballinger decides to invite her young relatives to a house party for Christmas.

A few days before the house party, Leigh and Mrs. Ballinger hear noises in the attic, like something is being dragged across it. There is a family curse that someone in the Ballinger family will die if that dragging noise is heard. The house guests arrive, and they bring along uninvited guests. And soon, there is a death and it is a member of the Ballinger family.

This book is one of 21 mysteries written by Constance and Gwyneth Little. All of their books were standalone books, and they were all very humorous. At Girl Detective, their books are described as a “cozy blend of vintage murder and madcap comedy.”

That site is where I first heard of the books by the Little sisters, years ago. This is the first one I have read, and I think I put it off for so long because I had a prejudice against funny or comical mysteries, even though I had previously enjoyed such mysteries by Donald Westlake and Janet Evanovich.

I should not have waited so long because I did thoroughly enjoy this book. It was a quick and easy read, with some very funny moments. I will be looking for more books by these authors.

I liked the first person narrative by Leigh Smith. She is a plucky, intelligent heroine. Although she was hired as a companion, she ends up being Mrs. Ballinger's maid and gofer (and mistreated at that). There is a lot of cleaning in this book, and I wish I could learn Smithy's tricks to cleaning a room up so fast.

A lot of vintage Christmas books (and some newer ones too) center around a group of people visiting a relative for Christmas ... and then someone is murdered. Often the victim is some curmudgeonly old person disliked by all his/her relatives. This story is also along those lines but the first murder victim is not old or unpleasant and some of the guests are quite pleasant, although most  of them are well-to-do and spoiled. They reminded me of characters out of a Georgette Heyer mystery but in a very different setting.

In addition to the humor, I thought the mystery was very clever, although the story was never very realistic. The small town policeman was a hoot; entertaining and intelligent. And there is a potential romance or two going on.

See also


Publisher:   Rue Morgue Press, 1999 (orig. pub. 1938)
Length:      155 pages
Format:      Trade Paperback
Setting:      New Jersey, USA
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased this book.


Margot Kinberg said...

I'm with you, Tracy. I do like a touch of wit in my mysteries. When it's done well, it can really add to a story, I think. I'm glad you enjoyed this one. I may need to check out this series, because this is one I haven't explored yet.

Kate said...

Glad you enjoyed this one. Hope you are able to find more of their books. They're not the easiest to find. Having said that I was very fortunate and bagged a copy of Black Corridor for £2.19 this week. Never bought one of their books that cheap before. Unlikely to happen again of course!

Rick Robinson said...

Last try. I've done everything including clearing the cache.

Rick Robinson said...

At last! I had to completely dump Blogger and go in again.

So, I just wanted to say I don't usually care for humorous mysteries, but this does sound tempting.

TracyK said...

A very fun Christmas mystery, Margot, but far from realistic.

TracyK said...

I hope I can, too, Kate. I guess that is another reason it took me so long to start reading these books. They never turned up at the annual book sale.

TracyK said...

I usually don't want humor in my mysteries, Rick, but I am willing to try it now or then. And this time it worked out well.

I am very glad you were able to comment. I hope you don't have any more problems in the future.

Mathew Paust said...

Tempting, as Rick says. You've tempted me again to try a writer I'd most likely have passed over had I not read your review. Merry Christmas, Tracy!

TracyK said...

Now this one I think you would enjoy, Matt, or another one of the mysteries by the Little sisters.

col2910 said...

Not one I've heard of before. I love the title, maybe not the book so much.

TracyK said...

This book may not be for you, Col, but it is very funny.

Clothes In Books said...

Well you've sold this one to me, Tracy, sounds like just the kind of thing I like, and I have just ordered it... though it is too late to be one of my seasonal books this year. Look out for a blogpost in December 2020!

TracyK said...

I am certain you would like this book, Moira. Lots of good scenes in it and a great heroine.