The Gutenberg Murders (1931) by Gwen Bristow & Bruce Manning

One of the most priceless treasures of New Orleans, nine pages from the Gutenberg Bible, has been stolen. The guilt of one party is almost assumed, until they are found burned to death. D.A. Dan Farrell and journalist Wade investigate the crime, and as they start to close in on a suspect, the murderer strikes again with the same murder method.

As the days stretch on, it seems that every suspect has an alibi for the crimes. With no one capable of giving a straight answer to the authorities, it looks like the murderer will go unpunished – until the murderer finds the need to silence another suspect…

“But how did you make up you mind that KILLER was the murderer?”
“I never did, quite. I wasn’t sure.”

That basically sums up my problem with this book. It’s the follow-up to the very enjoyable The Invisible Host, so I (and the rest of my book-group) had high hopes for this one. Alas, the curse of the book-group struck again. Whereas the first was a creative, if somewhat unbelievable, nonsense of a mystery, this had all the structure of a typical modern-day US cosy mystery. Only with less detection…

Basically, the majority of the book consists of interviews with the suspects, rotating around the cast and each time the suspect reveals something that wasn’t there the first time. Occasionally the most likely suspect gets murdered, but there’s never any actual deduction or detection. It’s just finding out information by persistence.

This is hardly the first book that I’ve read with this sort of structure, but the problem is that I never really grasped the relationships between the suspects, as there is rarely more than one of them in the same scene. It adds a level of disjointedness to the whole affair.

At the end of the day, and too late to save it, there is a creative murder method, although it is only when the villain is revealed that you discover there was more than just a bucket of petrol and a match involved, mainly because if you knew there was some clever shenanigans going on, it does render some alibi discussions rather pointless.

So, all in all, I think book group will be in agreement here – I certainly agree with Kate and Brad. This is a very standard book, nothing more, nothing less.

3 comments

  1. In those rare moments when more than one suspect are together, things certainly do heat up. I wish it had happened more often, especially when you compare it to The Invisible Host, where eight suspects basically have hysterics together throughout the entire novel, interrupted by the occasional horrifying murder. Now that’s entertainment!

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