Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Murder on the Blackboard: Stuart Palmer

Hildegarde Withers, a third-grade teacher in New York City, finds the dead body of an attractive young music teacher, Anise Halloran, in the Teacher's Cloakroom. Miss Withers calls in her friend Inspector Piper, but by the time he arrives, the body has disappeared. And then, when he goes looking for the body, he gets cracked on the head and ends up recuperating in the hospital.


This is the third book in Stuart Palmer's series featuring Hildegarde Withers and Inspector Oscar Piper. Quite by accident they worked together to solve a murder in their first case, The Penguin Pool Murder. And this time, the crime takes place in the school where Miss Withers teaches.

Although Inspector Piper does not feature as prominently in this mystery, here is the introduction we get to that character before he is bashed over the head and banished to a hospital bed:
Let me explain to those of my readers who are having their first introduction to Oscar Piper, Inspector of Detectives, that he is a leanish, grayish man of somewhat indeterminate age, with a pugnacious lower lip and a pair of very chilly bluegray eyes. A badly-lighted cigar usually hangs from one corner of his mouth, and his speech, perhaps because he has risen from the ranks and is proud of it, smacks a little of Broadway, West Broadway. 
Even with Inspector Piper incapacitated, Miss Withers wastes no time in investigating the mystery. As the author tells us:
She had little respect for the intelligence of the police when Oscar Piper was in charge of a case, and none at all now that he lay on the operating table in the emergency ward at Bellevue.
Although Miss Withers initially gets involved in crime investigation accidentally, by this point she has a reputation for being helpful to the police. In fact, the principal of her school asks her to act on behalf of the school in her investigation, at least initially.

These were my favorite aspects of this story:

  • The Hildegarde Withers stories are humorous, but they are not written exclusively for laughs. There is a serious story and Miss Withers is serious about her investigation.
  • I enjoyed the depiction of life in the 1930s. The book was published in 1932 and Prohibition ended in 1933, and bootleg liquor figures into the story. Also, the workings of a big city elementary school at that time was interesting.
  • Miss Withers is bossy, opinionated, and not afraid to speak her mind. She is a prime example of the spinster sleuth, although she isn't really that old (in her forties).


We also watched the film adaptation of this book starring Edna May Oliver and James Gleason. They are both perfect in their roles as Withers and Piper. Although the story in the film is very close to the plot of the book, Piper's role does change. In the movie, one of Piper's subordinates is the one knocked on the head and injured severely so Miss Withers and Inspector Piper do work together more than in the book. Miss Withers does take the initiative to go off on her own a bit. As usual, I prefer the book, but the movie is a lot of fun too.

There were six films based on Hildegarde Withers novels, and Edna May Oliver starred in the first three. Later she was replaced by Helen Broderick and Zazu Pitts.

See Also...


This post is submitted for Friday's Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog

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Publisher:   Bantam Books, 1988 (orig. pub. 1932)
Length:      185 pages
Format:      Paperback
Series:       A Hildegarde Withers Mystery #3
Setting:      New York City
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      I purchased my copy.



23 comments:

  1. I like these books for the same reasons you do. I especially like the time period covered. I thought I'd read more of them, but a quick check of my Books Read list shows I've only read two. I bought the film series a couple of years ago and like those, too.

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    1. I know I read some of these decades ago, Joan, but I did not keep reading records then, so don't know which ones. I am really enjoying them now.

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  2. I think the cover alone would be enough to put me off. Nope not for me I'm afraid.

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    1. I guess these are not your type, Col, although you still might like the movies.

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  3. I like the Hildegarde Withers character, too, Tracy. It's nice to have a strong female character, and I agree that Palmer doesn't play her for laughs. I also like that she doesn't 'play cop.' That is, she knows she's not a professional detective, and doesn't forget that.

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    1. I do like that she is a strong female character, Margot, and she is the kind of amateur detective that I can take.

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  4. As Joan likes these books I'm sure I will too. Thanks, I'll try to track some down. I like the jazzy book cover.

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    1. I think you would like them too, Katrina. I am glad you mentioned the cover. I remember finding some information about the artist a while back but I could not find it before I posted the review. Still looking for info on that. I think he had also illustrated some other covers in a similar style.

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  5. I read this one a while back - it's one of the very few Palmer books that are easy and cheap enough to find and buy. :) Very enjoyable too. Hildegarde Withers is a fun character even if she is highly unbelievable. Oh well, suspension of disbelief still carries the day. :)

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    1. I suppose I do have to suspend disbelief, Yvette, but I have so much fun reading them I don't care. You are right about the cost of the books. I am looking for The Puzzle of the Peppertree and it is not exorbitant but it is more than I want to pay. I will be patient.

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    2. Yeah, I don't like to pay more than 3.50 on Abe Books. Sometimes I'll go to 5 or 6, but only for something really special. I'm cheap like that. Ha.

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    3. I don't see it as cheap, Yvette, I say that the lower the price you spend, the more books you can buy. But sometimes I will pay more for a cover that I love.

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  6. Thanks for the mention - I liked this a great deal on film and in print. Palmer was great fun - great review Tracy.

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. Either I am finding some really gifted writers of humor or I am like humor in mystery novels more as I grow older, because I have enjoyed the humorous books I have read lately. Probably a bit of both.

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  7. Afraid I'm in the Colonel's camp with this one, Tracy, altho, as usual, your review is enticing.

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    1. I actually think you might like the humor in this author's books, Mathew, but there are so many books out there, we can't read them all.

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  8. I've never read any of this series, but always have them in the back of my mind, I will get to them some time...

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    1. I am sure you will like them once you do get to them, Moira. It is complicated but fun.

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  9. I have this one on my shelves, Tracy, so thanks for the review. But am undecided as to whether I should start with this or try to locate the first book.

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    1. That is a good question, neer. This one can be enjoyed alone but the first one is the best introduction to the two main characters, Miss Withers and Inspector Piper.

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    2. Thanks Tracy. Guess I better start from the beginning.

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  10. I should give Stuart Palmer another chance. I did enjoy The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla, but not quite as much as I'd expected to.

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    1. The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree is the next one I am reading, dfordoom, because I want to read it before I watch the film based on that book. You should give the series one more try.

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