Death My Darling Daughters (1945) aka Death And The Dear Girls by Jonathan Stagge

Kenmore Valley, home of Dr Hugh Westlake and his daughter Dawn, is expecting visitors. Mrs Lanchester and her two daughters, descendants of fictitious vice-president and local celebrity, Benjamin Hilton have come to town, along with their relatives and the girls’ Nanny. Westlake soon meets the family as Nanny has had one of her turns. But as tensions begin to show in the Hilton clan, they are shocked to discover Nanny dead – but not from a funny turn, but from cyanide poisoning.

While some write this off as a silver polishing accident, Dr Westlake and Inspector Cobb think differently. Taking charge of the case (for some reason), Westlake ingratiates himself into the family. But death is going to strike again…

Jonathan Stagge was another pseudonym for the writers better known as Patrick Quentin, and having enjoyed those books, I sampled The Stars Spell Death, the third Westlake mystery and, quite frankly, disliked it – it was one of the most disappointing books I’d read, in part due to having enjoyed the Quentin books so much. But I was told that this was an isolated case, and I should read Death And The Dear Girls.

So I did – that’s the title of my copy, the UK version, although Death My Darling Daughters is the original US title. And you know what? They were right – this was much better, an absolute cracker in fact.

There’s less of Dawn, Westlake’s rather irritating daughter which helps, but if I was being completely honest, there’s not much beyond this being a typical country house mystery. But it’s a very, very good example of a typical country house mystery. A plethora of suspects, all nicely distinct, some clever red herrings, along with a false solution which I fell for – although it’s a bit disappointing, so I was briefly grumpy until the real one presented itself amongst a plethora of misdirection in the conclusion.

I really enjoyed this one, quite obviously, it’s on a par with the best of the Duluth mysteries from the Quentin pseudonym, and definitely worth a reprint, if anyone out there is listening…

8 comments

  1. The three Jonathan Stagge novels are currently available as e-books from Mysterious Press…

    … although I realize that for some people an e-book is a non-thing having no existence 😉

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  2. This is truly one of the best of the Dr. Westlake books. The others worth reading are THE SCARLET CIRCLE and MURDER BY PRESCRIPTION. I’d stay away from THE YELLOW TAXI. It’s basically a rewrite of THE DOGS DO BARK which is OK but not on a level with the two I highly recommend. I absolutely hated THE STARS SPELL MURDER. Never reviewed it on my blog. Would prefer it never existed. Nonsensical thriller ending, Nazis, Dawn is utterly annoying, etc. etc. Ugh!

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  3. I liked this one very much as well, in no small part for the emotional gut punch when the murderer gets revealed.

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