California, 1945, and Lieutenant Peter Duluth is on leave from his ship, looking to spend some time with his wife, Iris. Given that she has seemingly accidentally become a major movie star, and peace and quiet is hard to come by, they accept an invitation from Lorraine Pleygel to join their house party on the shores of Lake Tahoe in Nevada. Among the guest are three female friends of Lorraine, all of which are currently undergoing marital troubles, being separated from their spouses. But unfortunately Lorraine has the clever idea to invite said husbands along to, in order to patch things up.
Soon one of the women, Dorothy, collapses and while the doctor on the scene – one of those husbands, in fact – pronounces natural causes, Duluth suspects curare poisoning. But with nothing to go on, apart from a disappearing and re-appearing poisoned dart, there isn’t much he can do. And then another of the women dies. And it seems that the murderer’s work is far from over…
So the Countdown begins to Review 1000, and as I mentioned before, the plan is this – ten books from authors that I’ve not reviewed before but that I really should have. I decided to stick to Golden Age authors – their names and the book titles are all hidden in the image below, where I’ve highlighted this one for those readers out there who didn’t work it out last time I posted it. So we’re beginning with this one – Puzzle For Wantons aka (brace yourself) Slay The Loose Ladies by Patrick Quentin. I’d seen the name a few times recently amongst the Golden Age online community and figured this was a prime candidate.
As far as I understand it, Patrick Quentin was a writing team (at this point in time at least) consisting of Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler, and they (although just Wheeler after 1952) produced seventeen Peter Duluth mysteries, of which this is the fourth. I say it’s a Peter Duluth mystery, but Peter and Iris are clearly a team and while the reader’s attention is focussed on Peter, Iris does a lot more of the work here. All the better for it, as several characters have a habit of banging on about how useless women can be – and the title is massively inappropriate too, while we’re at it – and how they shouldn’t be trusted, so it’s nice to see at least one of them recant at the end of the tale.
And what a tale this one is. A great start to my Countdown, and it’s clear to me that Patrick Quentin aka Q Patrick aka Jonathan Stagge is someone who I need to look out for.
A large cast of characters still remain distinctive without lapsing into caricature and there’s a nice line in dark humour threaded throughout the tale – the threat of menace hangs over the entire cast as it looks at some point that it’s turning into Ten Little you-know-whats. Although one has to question why, after the second “accidental” death that the house party is still going on.
But the killer’s plan does have some clever logic to it and I think it’s reasonably well-clued too. The central idea is complex but not unfollowably so, and the murderer is, I think, pretty well hidden. Certainly hidden well enough for one central character to miss the point more than once.
So, this is a bit of a cracker and well worth your time. Probably the most enjoyable mystery that I’ve read in a long time and a definite Book of the Month contender. Highly Recommended.