Murder at BridgeJanuary 19, 2011
I sort of don’t like how odd and ends of more-recent-than-1923 fiction pop up on Project Gutenberg, although I recognize that’s just me being silly, or a tiny bit annoyed by the fact that lots of things with interesting titles turn out to be short stories from SF magazines, which really aren’t my kind of thing. But you also get the odd mystery novel from the ’30s, ’40s, or ’50s, and those can be pretty entertaining. Murder at Bridge, for example. It’s from 1931 and it’s by Anne Austin, who apparently wrote several mystery novels between the late twenties and mid thirties, although Google Books is choosing not to make them available. Or, I don’t know, they could all be under copyright. But Murder at Bridge seems not to be, and Google hasn’t made their text of that available either. Whatever. Let’s just say that Google Books is, as ever, a mystery to me.
Anyway. Murder at Bridge. The setting is a moderately sized city called Hamilton, the detective is an investigator attached to the DA’s office who has been saddled with the name “Bonnie Dundee,” and, thankfully, you don’t have to know much about bridge to figure out what’s going on.
Also attached to the DA’s office is Penny Crain. She’s a secretary now, but until her father went bankrupt and ran off to New York she was part of Hamilton’s social elite, and her old friends still include her in their activities and try not to let things get awkward. She’s still part of the Forsyte Alumnae Bridge Club, Forsyte being the fancy East Coast finishing school that Penny and the women in her social circle attended. Austin tries to make a big deal out of it, but it’s almost entirely irrelevant to the mystery. The bridge club isn’t though, because is has a new member, and she’s not a Forsyte girl. Her name is Juanita Leigh Selim, and she’s a Broadway dancer who one of the local women, Lois Dunlap, has brought to Hamilton to help found a theater group or something. She’s tiny and dark-haired and very beautiful, and the women of Hamilton mostly like her, even though all of their husbands have kind of fallen in love with her — most notably Penny’s boyfriend, Ralph Hammond.
So. Nita Selim gets shot at the end of a bridge party at her house, and all of the club members are there, along with most of their husbands and boyfriends, plus This guy named Sprague who Nita brought from New York with her. And because Penny asks him to and he’s a little bit in love with her, and also because it’s, you know, his job, Bonnie Dundee investigates.
There were a few things I didn’t like so much about this book, like Penny’s chartreuse dress with big brown polka dots, but mostly I thought it was pretty good. You’re given a lot of clues — easily enough to allow you to solve the mystery, but not all at once. And Dundee’s investigation proceeds sort of similarly — he follows up on different clues, and sometimes he gets bits of helpful information and sometimes he doesn’t. Most of the characters are just interesting and likable enough to work, and even Nita, the sexy dancer who brings her lover with her from New York and flirts with everyone’s husbands isn’t vilified, which was surprising and pleasing.
But hey, maybe I really just liked it because I figured out who killed Nita and how it was done before Bonnie Dundee did. I never manage that.