--The Reluctant Murderer (1949), by Bernice Carey
|pick your victim....|
With her new notion now firmly lodged in mind--"murder was the answer" she says to herself--Vivian departs for Anne's house with her phlegmatic salesman fiancee, Culbert, an old friend of the family's.
At Anne's country place Vivian and Culbert encounter the war widow's handsome new boyfriend, Johnny Lloyd. About Johnny Vivian expresses decided disdain:
I got his number the first time I ever saw him, lounging around on [Anne's] fancy outdoor furniture in sloppy slacks and huaraches, and no shirt--so he could show off his muscles and his nice, evenly browned skin, and the black hair on his chest....
He was, it seemed, going to be the next John Steinbeck, or maybe it was William Saroyan--I forget which. He had a shack two ravines over from Anne's house, and I judged that he was at that time living off his discharge pay from the Army and his unemployment insurance. She had known him for a year now and to my knowledge he hadn't done a day's work in all that time.
|malice domestic in the Santa Cruz mountains|
Any northern Californian knows that the southern part of the state is populated almost exclusively by screwballs, and I do believe Aunt Maud is the epitome of southern California crackpots.
Anne and Vivian are Aunt Maud's heirs, though Vivian fears the influence on her odd aunt of her demonstratively doting companion, self-effacing Miss Pringle, and her chauffeur, Alphonse. All the ingredients for a nice domestic murder--not the between-the-wars English country house type but rather the mid-century modern California country cabin sort.
But just who will be murdered? Like in Pat McGerr's celebrated crime novel Pick Your Victim, published three years earlier, considerable suspense is maintained in The Reluctant Murderer over the matter of the murderee's identity. It adds to the suspense when scheming Vivian begins to suspect that someone is trying to murder her! Will this be the case of the biter bit?
This is a fine crime novel, arguably a classic of mid-century domestic suspense, with a pleasingly tangled (and untangled) plot. It was an impressive debut indeed for the author, and it was rightly designated "something special" by Bernice Carey's publisher, Doubleday. I have hopes this title will be reprinted in the not so distant future. I will keep you posted!