|US 1st edition (Bobbs Merrill, 1942)|
Murder Among Friends (1942) is the first detective novel by Lange Lewis, the pen name for novelist Jane Benyon. The book introduces readers to Lieutenant Richard Tuck, a policeman who relies on a blend of reason and imagination in solving his cases. When reason fails him as he pores over the evidence he resorts to putting himself in the murderer's place and imagining possible scenarios that often defy logic. He is described as unsentimental but by the book's conclusion we discover he has a deeply hidden compassion not often seen in the usual tough cops of 1940s era crime fiction.
Garnet Dillon we learn was more than a secretary. She was a close friend with many of the students, mostly male students who were attracted by her stunning good looks and drawn to her vivacious personality. Dean Calder, her boss, however quickly points out to Lt. Tuck that his secretary was not too smart and a little too friendly. He also confides that she seemed to be staunchly conservative in her personal beliefs and more than once hinted that she had an unsophisticated, almost childlike, view of life after death. Tuck will interview many of the close circle of Garnet's friends who make up the pool of suspects, but it is always the victim who is the focus of the investigation. Lange's book in many ways anticipates the now modern trend of looking to the victim's life first to help understand the crime.
|Paperback edition (Bart House, 1946)|
But there is something for all the woman in town to fear. A stalker has been killing women and taking their purses as trophies. Already five women have been killed in remote areas surrounding the campus. Not so coincidentally Garnet's purse was stolen from the place where she died. Tuck thinks Garnet may have been the most recent victim of this stalker dubbed "Black Overcoat" by the newspapers and police. Tuck's police co-workers doubt it. After all, the stalker's victims were stabbed and Garnet was poisoned. While the other police track "Black Overcoat" Tuck concurrently continues his investigation of Garnet's death. Eventually the two storylines intersect in an original twist.
Beyond the crime plots, however, is the story of Garnet Dillon's life. When her secrets are uncovered her life takes on a deeply poignant aspect that elevates this novel from its genre roots resulting in an uncommonly moving story. Amid all the modern elements like high tech discussions of the medical effects of digitalis and a character who is conducting genetic research is a heart wrenching story of a woman seemingly doomed by Fate and circumstance and loved too deeply by her friends.