The Greene Mansion sat on the eastern end of 53rd Street in New York, home to the dysfunctional Greene family – the paralysed mother and her menagerie of children, all of whom have their own particular (and unpleasant) quirks and traits. And one of them is somewhat dead.
Chester Greene, the eldest son, comes to the police with his concern about the burglary that led to the murder of his eldest sister Julia and the shooting of his youngest sister Ada. Philo Vance also has questions – why, if the burglar was disturbed, was there a significant time lapse between the two incidents? What is the source of the oppressive atmosphere at the mansion? And can Vance deduce the truth before another death occurs? Well, the answer to that last one is most definitely no…
S S Van Dine brings my countdown to review 1000 to an end and I’m not sure there’s anyone more appropriate to do so. Van Dine aka Willard Huntington Wright wrote twelve mystery novels from 1926 to 1939. The wisdom that someone passed on to me is that the first six are excellent and the last six… aren’t. But this is the third novel in the series so it should be a cracker, yes?
Hmm… yes, it’s definitely good, but it’s also definitely flawed.
The good, first of all. This is a proper detective novel, with puzzles, red herrings, a closed cast of suspects and, most effective of all, an effectively-created atmosphere. Terror stalks the Greene mansion and the tension oozes off the page. Our lead, Philo Vance, is a pleasant enough host (although perhaps a tad bland) and I found the book a real page turner.
On the downside, the “how” aspect of some parts of the crime are a bit ridiculous, with a distinct whiff of “being a nutter” needing to be applied to the killer. I don’t think many long-term mystery readers will fail to at least guess the identity of the villain of the piece, although Van Dine does throw out at least one mystery trope as a red herring, although perhaps a bit too obviously.
There is one very odd bit that didn’t bother me until I thought about it too hard. S S Van Dine is a character herein, narrating the tale as a fly on Vance’s shoulder. But nobody even mentions Van Dine or talks to him. There’s even one scene where Vance is being confided in and I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened with Van Dine in the room.
Van Dine does like his footnotes too, with every chapter having at least three, with some massive ones at the end to justify what the murderer did was plausible and had precedent. It does come across a bit as “See? It would work!”
But overall, this is a gripping read that will keep the reader guessing, for a bit at least. I’ll definitely be coming back to Van Dine and Vance (partly because I picked up all twelve novels in ebook form for 99p). Recommended.
Right – back soon with the end of my review of Books 667 to 999. And then the big one – Review Number 1000. Start your guessing now…