This is my entry in the Friday's Forgotten Mysteries meme usually hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE. Doing the hosting duties this week is Todd Mason at his blog, SWEET FREEDOM while Patti takes a well-deserved break. She'll be back at her post next week.
EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE is a relatively short novel - just 128 pages in my current library edition. I zipped right through it, couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I've read several Rinehart books lately (I'm sort of on a reading binge with her) and this, surprisingly, has turned out to be one of her best. I'd never heard of it before so I came to it with a blank slate. Except that I knew I was going to get a 'murder with manners' tale probably taking place among the well to do. And sure enough I did. But what a tale!
EPISODE OF THE WANDERING KNIFE is full of suspense and a terrific 'what happens next' rhythm which I loved. Rinehart is so good at this kind of pacing. I wish more mystery writers today had this knack, by the way.
Since we only have 128 pages, things have to happen at a relatively fast clip and they do. First we have a big party (the mayor in attendance) thrown at the mansion of Mrs. Shephard, a society type with high society attitude. Within a couple of pages, the party is over and a murder has occurred in the house next door where her son lives. Larry Shephard staggers in with the news that his wife, Isabel (who had not attended the party) has been stabbed to death.
Mrs. Shephard runs right over to see what's what and the cops are called. The cops arrive quickly enough but the murder weapon, the knife in the title, has disappeared. The heroine of the piece, Judy Shephard is also in attendance, keeping an eye on her mom who is prone to volatile behavior. We're also introduced to Anthony King who first appears to be a member of the police but then evolves into some sort of mysterious agent eager to find the murderer while driving Judy nuts with his exasperating behavior. We know, right off the bat, that despite his odd behavior (and possibly because), Tony King is the romantic lead. Rinehart usually has one up her sleeve.
To protect her son Larry (the obvious suspect) from being arrested for the murder of his wife, Mrs. Shephard has spirited the knife from the crime scene under the noses of the cops. She goes next door and hides the knife in her toilet tank. As good a place as any I suppose. Then she collapses, prostrated on her bed - though she is not the collapsing type - assuming the cops won't cross her bedroom's threshold if she is lying in bed in shock. Ah, mother love.
There aren't many servants left in the house since the story takes place during WWII, when most able-bodied men and women were needed for fighting or war work of some sort. But Mrs. Shephard does have a couple of servants in residence as well as a secretary, the hard working Alma, driven to distraction by the comings and goings between the two houses, the intrusion of the police and the increasing hysteria of her employer. Judy Shephard herself has caught the hysteria bug once she learns that her mother has absconded with vital evidence from the crime scene. But when the knife first disappears then keeps reappearing, no one can blame her if she acts a bit on edge. Especially when Don Sutton, a man Judy has had a crush on for years begins acting suspiciously. What a mess.
Long story short: Within the next day or so, a cop who was on duty the night of the party and the murder, is found dead. Then a woman who'd shown up at the mansion wanting to speak to the Shephards is killed. Meanwhile, the knife keeps showing up, kind of like a corpse that won't go away. Three people are dead and nobody but the killer knows why. Then the story of a baby born inconveniently years ago is revealed.
This is one fine Rinehart novel. A terrific way to spend a few hours when you're in the mood for a murderous tale which will keep you guessing until the very end. It's interesting that in such a short period of time, Rinehart still manages to make the characters and scene so vivid and suspenseful. What happens next has rarely been more fun.