Sunday, September 9, 2012

Lament for the Bride: Helen Reilly (RIP #2)

Lament for the Bride, published in 1951, is a vintage mystery novel, part of a long series featuring Inspector McKee of the Manhattan Homicide Squad. It is a hybrid, part romantic suspense, part police procedural.

The events unfold primarily from the point of view of the damsel in distress, a young woman (Judith Fescue) who has married a man she does not love (Horace Fescue) after losing the man she does love (Charles Darlington) to another woman. And this situation might not be so bad, except that her new husband is manipulative and controlling, and they keep running into the old love interest.

This book is almost equally divided into two parts: the first part leading up to the crime and the second part focusing on the detection of the crime.  This is similar to the structure I noticed in Ngaio Marsh’s Night at the Vulcan (review here).

In this case Inspector McKee, shows up at the beginning of the book, because the husband’s life has been threatened. To this point the story has taken place in New York, which is where McKee is based. The couple moves on to St. Augustine, Florida, in preparation for a cruise to “southern waters.” 

They end up at a "big white colonial house in the middle of the town that was as shut away as though it were on a desert island." And right next door is Horace's first wife and her entourage of relatives and friends. There is eventually a murder, and the death threats take on more gravity.

This is a story of its time -- the 1950’s. The characters are mostly rich and powerful, or once rich and powerful. People who are used to having money being about to do what they want. The bride is from outside of that world, a woman who worked for a company her husband owns.  A lot of the Nero Wolfe books by Rex Stout also focused on the well to do, who could afford Wolfe's fees. In this case, McKee is following the case because the husband is an important New York financier.

Only the bride's motivations and character are fully fleshed out. The remaining characters are murky and threatening. The main suspense is in determining what is really going on with this group of people gathered in Florida, and discovering who is what they seem and who is not. I did not get a full sense of Inspector McKee... he is referred to as “the Scotsman,” and he is doggedly trying to solve the puzzle. 

This is the first Helen Reilly novel I have read. I would like to read some of the earlier mysteries that focus more on McKee and his police work.

I have started a 50 State Mystery Challenge at Goodreads, and this novel, set primarily in Florida, is my first book for that challenge.

This post is my second for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII event. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery and suspense.


Fay said...

The cover!! Your Good Reads project sounds fun. I'd like to follow along even if I do not always read along.

TracyK said...

It is a great cover isn't it? I collect old paperbacks (and new) with skulls or skeletons on the cover.