Friday, September 11, 2015

FFB: Bring the Bride a Shroud - D. B. Olsen

Mr. Pennyfeather (later to become Professor Pennyfeather) is D. B. Olsen’s second series character she created while part of Doubleday Doran’s Crime Club cadre of popular mystery writers. He makes his debut as amateur sleuth in Bring the Bride a Shroud (1945), a book that shares more than a few plot points with Olsen’s first Crime Club published detective novel The Cat Saw Murder (previously reviewed here). The detective is a senior citizen, the setting of the murders is a privately run hotel, and the suspects are primarily made up of the hotel guests. I almost forgot! The murder weapon in Bring the Bride a Shroud is also an ax. Is this the way Dolores Hitchens likes to introduce her sleuths to us? Solving ax murders in hotels? I’ll report on that again later when I delve into her other “first” books written in her early career using other pseudonyms.

The story is just as engaging as The Cat Saw Murder and Pennyfeather, while less active and daring than Miss Murdock, proves himself to be more than capable as a detective in this gruesome premiere. En route to a military base in the fictitious town of Superstition, Arizona the college instructor is planning to visit “Tick” Burrell, a former student. He confides all of this to his seatmate on the bus headed from San Diego to Arizona. She is flabbergasted by this news. She happens to be Martha Andler, Tick’s aunt and sometime guardian who has been advising him on his latest marriage proposal. You see, Tick has a habit of collecting fiancées and then breaking the engagements. So far he’s proposed marriage three times and he hopes that this third time is the charm. Aunt Martha thinks otherwise. She’s on her way to counsel him against marrying his latest.

These various fiancées turn up over the course of the story and two of them coincidentally happen to be staying in the same hotel where Mr. Pennyfeather and Mrs. Andler are staying. When the bus makes a rest stop Mrs. Andler apparently has a run in with a volatile fellow bus passenger in a rest room and sustains an injury. Various suspicious conversations are overheard. Mr. Pennyfeather begins to think that Tick and his women problems may result in something more violent than a cut on the wrist. And his fears come true when Mrs. Andler is found butchered in her bed.

Hitchens does a fine job of presenting a tricky plot involving the various women in Tick’s life and uncovering several deep, dark secrets in the lives of the hotel guests. The story is rife with traditional detective novel motifs and abounds with fair play and puzzling clues. The dust jacket illustration points out many of the pieces of evidence like a button from a sweater, a bloody head bandage and – if you look very closely at the bottom edge of the jacket – a centipede. The centipede is one of those nasty large desert species, the kind with a venomous bite. Our poor hero has a rather nasty encounter with this centipede, a naive but creepy attempt to put an end to his amateur snooping.

The murders are solved with a good old fashioned gathering of the suspects and a lecture provided in tag team style by both Pennyfeather and Sheriff Stacey. But when the savage killer is finally unmasked there is still one more mystery yet to be revealed.

Throughout the book Stacey is perplexed why the college teacher will not volunteer his full name to him, in fact, refusing to do so. Pennyfeather offers a couple of hints as to why he never reveals his first name: it’s classically inspired and it’s wholly unsuitable for him. Stacey plays a sort of guessing game a la “Rumpelstiltskin” but never manages to nail the right mythological moniker. Thankfully, the reader is spared the frustration of never knowing when Hitchens delivers the news in the penultimate sentence.

Bring the Bride a Shroud is definitely worth seeking out even if it is — of course! — another one of those hard to find books. I found a copy in the Chicago Public Library system and maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a copy in your local library, too.

Professor Pennyfeather detective novels
(Books reviewed elsewhere on this blog have colored links)
Bring the Bride a Shroud (1945)
Gallows for the Groom (1947)
Devious Design (1948)
Something About Midnight (1950)
Love Me in Death (1951)
Enrollment Cancelled (1952), US paperback title: Dead Babes in the Wood

13 comments:

  1. Oh, this appeals to me, John. I enjoyed THE CAT SAW MURDER - thanks to you. :) So I will definitely look for this one. Pennyfeather. I think Agatha Christie had a character with this moniker somewhere along the line. So familiar. But in her case, I think it was the Reverend Pennyfeather. It is a very 'reverend-ish' sounding name.

    P.S. Have you read THE SPANISH CAPE MURDER by Ellery Queen? I read it because it suddenly became available for a couple of bucks on e-books, but jeez what a TEDIOUS ending. All gobbledygook explanation by Ellery - pages and pages of explanation. I wonder if anyone else feels the same way. Vintage run-a-mok.

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    1. So glad you liked CAT SAW MURDER. I wondered why no review on your blog. This must the book review I wrote that ticked you off for my having beat you to the blogs. You should write up your review anyway. A lot of people never bother visiting this blog anymore. A LOT! ;^)

      I think a lot of the early Queen books have long winded, overly logical explanations of the solution of the murders. I remember getting annoyed with Ellery a few years ago when I re-read THE GREEK COFFIN MYSTERY. But there are others that veer away from the intellectualism and severe logic that can be a real turn off for modern readers just looking for an entertaining mystery. THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN, for example, is completely loopy and intentionally so. I was really surprised how much I liked it. Very different from the early Queen mysteries written between 1929 and 1936.

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    2. I think I read THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN (is that the book with the dueling loonies?) At any rate, I liked it too. I also still like and reread every once in a while, CAT OF MANY TAILS. I didn't review THE CAT SAW MURDER because you'd reviewed it so recently. Maybe in a while I'll write it up. But I did write up THE DOORS OF SLEEP. Also didn't write up the Nancy Spain book because I just couldn't get through it. Jeez. No where near the excellence of Delano Ames. Nope.

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  2. "Throughout the book Stacey is perplexed why the college teacher will not volunteer his full name to him, in fact, refusing to do so."
    I am reminded of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse.
    There is a character Canon Pennyfather in Christie's At Bertram's Hotel. Perhaps Yvette is referring to him.

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    1. Yes, that's who I meant. Thanks, Santosh.

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  3. Well you still have a loyal following here for your Blog, John.

    Another one to hunt down, I've been reading Dr. Thorndyke on your recommendation, very enjoyable. Also read some of Freeman's non Thorndyke tales but these feel a little under cooked.

    Wayne.

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    1. Thanks, Wayne. I guess in my first two years I was one of those blog phenomenons with very high visit counts and loads of long discussions. I got spoiled. I'm lucky really. I know there are bloggers who have regular visits but zero comments. Some bloggers have no visitors at all. At least I have a handful of regulars who are "talking" to me. For that I'm truly grateful.

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    2. Well, there is one blogger who has both a large number of visits and a large number of comments regularly. (Hint: I also often comment in his blog !)

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    3. I don't get much comment action any more either, John. In fact, you're getting more than me lately. But I'm still chugging right along and I still like to come over here and hang out. :)

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  4. Oh a mystery set in a hotel! I definitely want to read this though the ax is a little off-putting.

    And I also want to read your own story, "Till death do us Part". How about posting it at the blog?

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    1. Oh my goodness, neer. Maybe I never should have confessed that on your blog. It's such a ... youthful story...if you catch my drift.

      I know how some writers -- Hemingway, Ray Bradbury and F Scott Fitzgerald come to mind -- wanted to destroy all their writing written when they were teens hoping to escape embarrassment. Bradbury didn't get to all of it though. I think there's a collection out there of a few things he never wanted to be reprinted and he was less than happy about it when the book was published.

      I'll think about it. I'll have to scan it and upload it as a PDF or something similar. If I dared to transcribe it from the high school literary magazine where it was published, I know I'd be tempted to change nearly every word of it. HA!

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  5. Having really enjoyed SLEEP WITH SLANDER I will try an Olsen chum (but one that is easier to get hold of - any suggestions?) - thanks.

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    1. I've only read the two reviewed on this blog and both are scarce. Sorry I can't be of more help. Her books under her own name are much easier to find but most of them aren't traditional detective novels like those she wrote as "D B Olsen".

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