Odor Of Violets (1940) by Baynard Kendrick

Norma Tredwill has been trying to bond with her stepdaughter Babs (yes, we’re in the US for this one) and has become worried that she has been involved with one Paul Gerente, an actor who she herself once had a relationship. Following Babs one day to Gerente’s apartment, she sees Babs run from the apartment, and on entering, Norma finds herself faced with Gerente’s dead body…

As Norma attempts to hide Babs’ involvement, at the same time Captain Duncan Maclain is recruited to locate secret government plans that it is discovered were in Gerente’s possession – I say discovered because Maclain is recruited apparently by the dead man himself! How could such a deception be played on a master sleuth like Maclain? Well, the fact that he’s blind might help, although that might not help against an axe-wielding murderer…

Odor Of Violets has recently been reissued in Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics range but I can’t comment on the introduction as just to be contrary, I bought a copy of the Dell Mapback when this came up as our Book Club choice for January. The map is utterly useless for solving the crime by the way, but it is very nice all the same.

The setting of the book interested me a lot, as it’s 1941 in the US, so the world is at war, but the USA has yet to join the conflict. Despite this, the intelligence forces are wary of any enemy activity and hence the recruitment of Maclain, an experienced detective and intelligence operative despite his blindness.

I really liked the character of Maclain, despite him having near-Daredevil-like levels of superpowers. Basically, he has Sherlock Holmes-level of deductive powers. Everything he deduces is explained, although the reader might have to take those deductions with a pinch of salt. Kendrick does make the blindness work, to his credit, and at the end of the day I was actually surprised to find that Maclain’s magical powers didn’t bother me at all.

The book is an odd thing, to be honest, as it doesn’t quite seem to know what it wants to be. The opening section reads like a typical whodunit, as Norma stumbles across the body, and then it starts to oscillate from one genre to another. There are sections that are close to noir, sections that are a thriller and sections that are classic whodunit. It does work – although hand on heart, I read this in very small chunks (work again), there were sections where I had to remind myself who was who. I think it’s a sign of my distraction that it took me a while to realise that the characters Stacy and Bunny were actually both men…

All in all, I did enjoy the book and I’d like to read more from Kendrick – I have a copy of Out Of Control on my shelf. Is that worth a look?


  1. Kendrick based his series detective on a blind soldier he met during WW1 in London and he went on to do work with those who were blind, being on the board of some kind of organisation for the blind in America. He was the first sighted person to be on this particular board if I recall. In the Penzler intro and the intro written by Kendrick himself, it is stressed that he based the talents of Maclain upon talents real life blind people could do.

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  2. I would just like to point out that, while the dreaded “Babs” is a nickname for Barbara (which was a very popular name for girls in the 30’s and 40’s), my own mother, whose name is Barbara, has always gone by the infinitely more lovely nickname “Bobbie.” And now that I know that PD was confused by the gender of Bunny and Stacy, I wish, oh, I wish, that “Babs” had been “Bobbie” instead . . .


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