The Mark of Cain

March 30, 2018

A funny thing about Carolyn Wells — one of many funny things about Carolyn Wells — is that, brilliant as her detectives are, their assistants are smarter. Fleming Stone and Pennington Wise may make clever deductions, but it’s always Fibsy and Zizi with the big breakthroughs — and Stone and Wise with most of the credit. And yet there’s so much trust between Penny Wise and Zizi, and between Stone and Fibsy, that I’m not mad about it. The Mark of Cain is Fibsy’s origin story, something I never thought to want, but am happy to have. And while Fibsy deserves much of the credit in this one, too, I’ve never been so happy to see Fleming Stone.

But Stone and Fibsy are the wrong place to start. Our protagonist is Avice Trowbridge, whose uncle Rowland is murdered in Van Cortlandt Park one afternoon. She’s grief-stricken and revengeful, and none of the people around her seem to care that much. Her uncle’s fiancee, Mrs. Black, doesn’t seem very sad at all–and doesn’t want the murder investigated. Leslie Hoyt seems sympathetic, but all he really wants to do is badger Avice into marrying him. Hoyt is like a middle-aged Philip Van Reypen: his passion for her is overwhelming and obsessive to the point of creepiness, and when Avice seems touched by it I want to shake her and point out that a total disregard of her wishes is not love. There’s a point at which he asks her if she’s not ashamed to love a man who’s in love with another woman, and no one points out that this is a pot-kettle situation.  The man Avice is in love with is Kane Landon, Rowland Trowbridge’s nephew but not Avice’s cousin. He’s the obvious suspect, which is one of several reasons you know he’s not the murderer.

Enter Terence McGuire, AKA Fibsy. He was Rowland Trowbridge’s office boy, and he has the detective instinct, because according to Carolyn Wells that’s a thing. He keeps pointing out things no one else has considered, but none of the adults seem to care — until Avice consults Fleming Stone, fresh from meeting his wife in The Curved Blades. In Stone, Fibsy finds someone he can trust with his clues, and someone who will take him seriously. Fibsy’s come up with all the information necessary to solve the murder, and Fleming Stone is the man who can put it to use.

The Stone-Fibsy collaboration is the good news. The bad news is that it’s easier than usual to figure out who the murderer is, and to grasp the significance of clues that baffle the police. Either that or I’ve read too many Wells mysteries lately (eight in the past month) and I’m primed for all of her favorite tricks. Honestly, the more Wells mysteries I read in quick succession, the more I enjoy them, which makes me suspicious of myself. I’m no longer sure I can accurately judge which ones are better and worse. But, for whatever it’s worth, I enjoyed The Mark of Cain. Fibsy is fun. THe lovers don’t fall for each other at first sight. Hoyt’s general objectionableness functions, I suspect, even better than Wells intended. If you feel like you have to read a Carolyn Wells mystery, there’s no reason it shouldn’t be this one.

One comment

  1. …yet another book to add to my list of things to read!

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