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