Thursday, May 7, 2015

IN BRIEF: The Eighth Mrs. Bluebeard – Hillary Waugh

The Eighth Mrs. Bluebeard (1958) is a crime novel that mixes a suspense novel with a caper novel. Basically it tells of a sting operation set up to trap a murderer defrauding a company out of thousands of dollars in life insurance policies. J .B. Stanford, president of his own insurance agency, begins to suspect multiple instances of insurance fraud when he sees a series of claims being paid out on the wives of different men all of whom are named Andrew. The big red flag, besides the highly unlikely coincidence of the first name, is that five of the six wives of these various Andrews died from accidental deaths in the great outdoors, and the repetition of the types of accidents (drowning in a canoe accident, falls from cliff sides) further sets off alarm bells.

Stanford arranges a mindboggling scheme involving Jack Graham, a top salesman; Charles Miles, a private detective; and Gene Taylor, the woman hired to catch Andrew Fisher’s eye as his next wife and future victim. A prized stamp collection is also part of the bait when the team discover that Fisher is a rabid philatelist eager to acquire rare stamps. They arrange that Miss Taylor play the part of a recently widowed woman who inherited her husband’s extremely valuable stamp collection to entice Fisher into meeting her. From there the story becomes a game of cat and mouse between the insurance agency team versus the wily wife killer.

How likely this would happen in the real world is debatable. To me all sorts of ethical issues arise, not the least of which is corporate vigilantism, 1950s style. But as a dramatic treatment of crime Waugh pulls off a couple of neat tricks in what might otherwise have been a routine B movie plot. I also liked that Gene Taylor was not an actress for hire as one might expect, but a desperate woman who needed money fast and was sort of a thrill-seeking tough broad who didn’t mind the element of danger involved. The showdown at a lakeside resort offers up a couple of unexpected twists when it appears the Andrew Fisher is not the only villain Jack Graham has to contend with.

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Reading Challenge update:  Golden Age card, space O2 - “Number or quantity in book title”

3 comments:

  1. I love the cover and I think it sounds like an interesting book. I have not read anything by Hillary Waugh and I want to do something about that soon. The first one I want to try is Last Seen Wearing.

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    1. I read that one last month , Tracy, and I'll have a review of it up next week. It's a landmark novel in the genre and I think it still has some very powerful scenes. I read four Waugh books back to back this year and I have even more of his books in my TBR pile. He was one of my favorite discoveries so far this year.

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  2. John, I'm so glad to see you review this one! It's been on my TBF list for ages and I haven't come across a copy yet. [I may have to break down and look online...which I'd rather not do]. It sounds like a good one. I definitely enjoyed Last Seen Wearing when I read it [pre-blogging days].

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