Friday, July 21, 2017

Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: ARROW POINTING NOWHERE (1944) by Elizabeth Daly



I'd read a Henry Gamadge book quite a while back but it was not nearly as intriguing or as engaging a mystery as this one. ARROW POINTING NOWHERE (aka MURDER LISTENS IN) despite one of its titles, has nothing to do with archery and all to do with a cunning mystery, murder and family obfuscation - what could be better?

Henry Gamadge is an author/dealer/sleuth currently doing secret work for the War Department and so you'd think he's be fascinating in and of himself, but unfortunately as created by Elizabeth Daly, he has little personality and almost nothing memorable about him (though there are some who find him charming). But this particular book still makes for an excellent mystery and fascinating puzzle highlighting human behavior at its most bizarre. I read it in large gulps of anticipation. My favorite way to read a mystery.

It occurs to me to interrupt myself at this moment and mention that memorable sleuth protagonists are quite difficult to create without giving way to satire or copycat embellishment.  Lately I've read several mysteries where that the main guy or gal remained a kind of cardboard dud for the entire book. It's quite obvious that Agatha Christie and  Ngaio Marsh and John Dickson Carr and even Ellery Queen and all the other Golden Agers who were capable of fashioning vivid detectives, amateur or otherwise, must have had a quite separate ability for creating interesting sleuths who immediately spring to life. It's funny how some authors can bring most of their characters to life, but leave their main protagonist completely draped in blandness.

But back to the current book:

When Henry Gamadge gets a secret (and very nebulous) message handed him by a rather intelligent and observant mail man, he must find a way to get invited to the house of people he doesn't know. Time seems to be of the essence.  So thinking quickly and with the aid of a book dealing connection, he is able to affect an entrance to the Manhattan mansion of Blake Fenway, head of a reclusive family of wealthy New Yorkers.

To Gamadge, the secret 'message' means someone in that very private house needs help of some sort and has chosen a rather odd way of requesting it. (I might have had a bit of trouble making the initial connection, but Gamadge tumbles to it almost instantly.)

Having cleverly gained entrance to the Fenway mansion, home of a family that reviles publicity and shuns the limelight, Gamadge meets several of the Fenways (after first scoping out the land while lurking in the shadows the night before) and soon he believes he knows who sent the message and why that person could not have contacted him in the normal way.

While at tea, Gamadge observes the residents of Fenway House with a keen eye. They are:

Head of the family Blake Fenway, a book collector and a very likable chap. Unmarried, the Fenway name will come to an end with him.

Caroline Fenway, unsettled but pragmatic daughter of the house.

Belle Fenway a widow and Blake's sister-in-law - an invalid in a wheelchair since an injury aboard ship while fleeing from the war in Europe.

Belle's son, Alden, a grown man with the mind of a five year old boy.

Craddock, Alden's 'keeper' whose job it is to watch out for the unfortunate man/boy and keep him out of trouble.

Miss Grove, Belle Fenway's grim-faced companion.

Mott Fenway, a penniless older cousin beloved by most.

And of course, the servants.

Not living at the mansion at the moment but very involved in the story-line is Hilda Grove, Miss Grove's niece, a wide-eyed innocent who has been sent up to Fenbrook, the Fenway country house to do some research among family records. Craddock, who is himself penniless, has a tenderness for young Hilda thought Blake Fenway is uneasy about it.

How all these disparate characters figure in the ever-expanding investigation is a mystery which little by little, Gamadge manages to piece together despite two giant red herrings placed in our path almost from the getgo. Much of Gamade's deductive reasoning is arrived at without much explanation, so you have might have to stop for a moment now and then and say, "Wait - what?" I did.

After Gamadge's first introduction to the family, he is taken aside by cousin Mott who attempts to explain the root of the obvious family tensions. He sets up a second meeing but the very next day someone pushes poor Mott out an upper window. And through some rather fanciful putting together of two and two making four, Gamadge realizes that Hilda Grove may be in danger.

But when the second murder occurs, it is not Hilda who is found dead.

From strange beginning to even stranger end, this is a fine mystery worth looking for. I found it by accident when someone recommended Elizabeth Daly and I was reminded that I'd meant to read another. Even though I hadn't much liked the first one I'd read - I occasionally like to give these things a second or even a third chance. I do enjoy mysteries set among upper crust families, dead bodies turning up in a large mansions - the incongruity of it all. Additionally I will say that this story despite some familiar devices, features an unique twist which I don't remember having ever encountered before. I'd say even if you've been disappointed by a previous Elizabeth Daly book, forget about it and pick up this one.

Since this is Friday, don't forget to check in at author Patricia Abbott's blog, Pattinase, to see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today.

16 comments:

  1. I will look for it! I've read a couple of her books and they were just okay.

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    1. Peggy Ann, I think you'll enjoy this one. The mystery is a doozy.

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  2. Like you, I read one Daly and wasn't that impressed but glad this one seems better as so many rate her highly so I want to try again - thanks Yvette :)

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    1. Try this one, Sergio. I would love to know your opinion.

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  3. i've read a few Daly books and her writing has grown on me... Gamadge's character seems to gain dimensions over the series of books as compared to just one, and the more i read her the more i like her plots... i guess it's about the same process an in any other series, but it just seems a bit more ephemeral in Daly's... but that's not necessarily bad, imo....

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    1. I'm going to read a few more, for sure. :)

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  4. I'm afraid this one doesn't quite capture my interest, despite your (sometimes) faint praise. I'm certainly glad you enjoyed it, but I'll give it a pass.

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    1. Admittedly, these sorts of mysteries are either your cup of tea or they are not. :) I'm always happy to be proved wrong about a writer that at first I wasn't too sure of.

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  5. Hmmmmmmmm...large gulps of anticipation, eh? I love that kind of mystery. Am rather thirsty right now, in fact!

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    1. Lately I seem to want to read more and more vintage and I like to indulge myself. :) Hope you like this one, Mathew.

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  6. I've just downloaded Arrow, and am looking forward to some gulping!

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    1. Oooh, TOO MUCH pressure, Mathew! I hope you won't think too badly of me if you don't like the book as much as I did. :)

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  7. I read almost all of Elizabeth Daly's books years ago and liked them a lot. I haven't tried one in a while but I do want to. I have read a lot of reviews with a tepid response to books in this series.

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    1. Try this one, Tracy. I was surprised by how good it was. It's a very tricky little mystery.

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  8. I loved her books when I was younger, but then I read a few that hadn't been reprinted back in the 1970s and was extremely disappointed. I've been curious about the continuation of the series by her niece Eleanor Boylan. They feature Clara Gamadge as a widow and grandmother solving crimes on her own, I think. I'm pretty sure Henry is dead in those books.

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    1. I hadn't heard about this, John. I'm not normally interested in 'continuations' since I don't think I've ever read any I like. One exception, Ace Atkins continuation of Spenser.

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