Another suspense tale, but not one you should read after having a big night out. Jacob Duff, 42, wealthy, recently married a model, Reggie, who disappoints him. He’s bored, and although he needs to lose weight, he increases his drinking to an almost comedic level of rushing about to unlock and lock rooms where he’s hidden bottles of gin that he tries to pass off as water. He tries to frame his chauffeur in a compromising position with his wife, but she’s too innocent. The chauffeur, Nolan, realizes that he’s been set up and tells Duff he knows what he’s up to. Duff dismisses him, and Nolan goes on a bender at a neighbor’s house, Mr. Paul. When Paul turns up at the beachhouse, Duff accidentally kills him and pulls his body into the water to get rid of it. While covering up this crime he’s becoming increasingly out of control with drinking, lugging empty bottles around in a suitcase looking for a place to dispose of them. Nolan re-enters the picture and encourages Duff to try to frame his wife again, this time with the man she’s been giving money to (turns out it’s a degenerate half brother of the nanny taking care of Duff’s son). Duff falls into the trap and almost gets framed for the murder of this man, but Reggie recognizes that Nolan has set him up and so explains it away to the police. But then the soggy clothes are found in Duff’s bedroom along with the riding crop that Paul had on him, and Duff confesses to the killing. He slits his throat on the way to the jailhouse!
After exhausting my Dorothy Whipple supply, I discovered Elsabeth Sanxay Holding from the list of books Persephone has revived. In the introduction by her literary executor, he mentions that the Depression caused Holding to write shorter, suspenseful mysteries instead of the long, serious, critically acclaimed novels she’d previously done (Invincible Minnie – 1920, The Silk Purse are both mentioned). The New York Times reviewed The Silk Purse, saying:
“She has managed to make every one of her characters, however unimportant, important. They are as real a collection of people as ever said yes when they wished to heaven they could say no. Like real people, they talk when they should be silent, are silent when they should say something, and, with the best intentions in the world, quietly wreck each other’s lives.”
In this novel, Lucia Holley dutifully writes to her husband, fighting in the Pacific; she writes boring letter filled with the boring things that go on in the suburb where the family has moved to wait out the war—daughter Bee, son David, and Lucia’s father. Bee gets mixed up with an older man named Ted Darby that her mother forbids her to see. Darby shows up at the house and Lucia’s father shoves him in the boathouse, saying he pushed him into the water. When Lucia goes out the next day to row her boat, she finds Darby’s dead body and realizes that her father accidentally killed him. She motors the body out to a swampy island and discards it, along with a bandana and her shopping list. Then a man named Donnelly arrives to blackmail the family with letters Bee wrote to Darby. Thus begins Lucia’s whirlwind of deceit, pawning jewels and blithely lying to her family to protect them. Donnelly falls in love with her, and ends up killing a man who won’t stop blackmailing her, his original partner in the business. Lucia witnesses this and helps Donnelly dispose of the body. He later takes the rap for both murders because he wants to protect Lucia. The black maid, Sibyl, plays a huge role in keeping Lucia’s secrets and helping to protect the family.