Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Death Sends a Cable: Margaret Tayler Yates

This is a mystery novel published in 1938, set on the Naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba. The main character is Anne Davenport McLean, better known as "Davvie", an ex-Navy nurse now married to a Navy Doctor, Hugh McLean. As the story opens, a young officer has committed suicide; his wife denies that he would do this and enlists Davvie to convince the authorities to investigate. No immediate evidence is found, his death is declared a suicide, and his wife returns to the states. However, she is soon able to convince the higher ups in the military to pursue the investigation.

First I have to make it clear that I loved this book. I think what won me over were the main characters: Davvie; her husband, Hugh; Babs van Born (the niece of another officer); and an undercover FBI agent. But especially Davvie, who tells the story. I enjoyed this look at the U.S. military before World War II has begun. The focus is on the Navy officers, their wives, and the community. I found the interactions in the base housing community to be very realistic. (In the early 70s I was an Air Force officer's wife and lived on base. That was thirty years later, but not much different, I assure you.) Margaret Tayler Yates was married to Navy Commander R. R. Yates and thus had experience as a Navy officer's wife.

Like many mysteries of that time, the story was very complex with a surplus of characters that I had a hard time keeping up with. Yet in the end it all came together. Davvie gets involved in the investigation of the earlier deaths, working with the undercover FBI agent on base to determine what is going on, which sounds strange but actually works within the context of this story. She is resourceful, determined, and not shy at all.

The story is part mystery, part adventure/thriller, with some espionage thrown in. I was at least as interested in the military community and the interactions with the employees of the All America Cable Company than the mystery itself, but I liked that part too. My only complaint was that the villains were a little too obvious, but the emphasis was on figuring out what was behind the murders.  At least that was my focus while reading.

I would love to read more of the series. This is the second book of four, and I am especially interested in the two later stories. Copies are not easy to find, and especially not at a desirable price. Nevertheless, I have ordered the last book in the series, Murder by the Yard.

John Norris introduced me to this book at his blog, Pretty Sinister Books, and kindly offered to send me his copy to read, and I am very grateful  for that. Please see John's review, which is more detailed than mine and full of interesting information.

The Spy Guys and Gals site has a page for Davvie McLean.

Publisher: Macmillan, 1938
Length:    276 pages
Format:    Hardback
Series:     "Davvie" McLean 
Setting:    Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
Genre:     Mystery
Source:    This was a gift.


Margot Kinberg said...

I do like novels that offer a look at a particular way of life, Tracy, and it sounds as though this one does that. I'm glad you thought that the portrayal rang true. The plot sounds interesting, too, and I'm especially glad that the characters appealed to you.

Katrina said...

What a shame these books are so difficult to find. I even like the very 1930s cover design.

TracyK said...

It was just a fascinating time and place to read about, Margot.

TracyK said...

I also like the cover design, Katrina. The spine also has a nice design on it. And I do wish these had been reprinted as paperbacks, then they might be easier to find.

Mathew Paust said...

I can imagine the fun you had reading about an unusual place where you had once lived. Sounds like a good novel, too, and I wish there were a Kindle edition!

TracyK said...

I actually lived at March Air Force Base near Riverside, CA, although I would love to have been stationed in a more exotic location, Mathew. But I did enjoy reading about that setting. I wish the books were more easily available in any format, and I would be thrilled if they were a Kindle edition.

Clothes In Books said...

I remember being intrigued by John's review, and yours is equally interesting. He is very generous, he sent me some books recently too!

TracyK said...

Getting this book was a great opportunity for me, Moira. I enjoyed the book and am very interested in following up on the other books, when I can.

col2910 said...

A new author to me and an interesting setting, but it's not like I need this one (or four) on my shelves.

TracyK said...

No, not so much your type of mystery, Col, although like you say, a very interesting setting.