(About) (The) Murder Of A Startled Lady (1935) by Anthony Abbot

Mrs Lynn, a medium, is distraught when during a séance she hears the voice of one Madeline Swift, a young woman who claims to have been murdered, cut into pieces and sunk to the bottom of the river. Luckily the helpful spirit knows exactly where her remains are, and that Thatcher Colt, the Commissioner of the NYPD decides that it is worth dredging the river to check.

When the remains are found exactly where they were claimed to be, and the body is identified as Madeline, Colt has a number of problems. Did Madeline really speak from beyond the grave or is Mrs Lynn complicit somehow in the crime? Why did the reconstruction of Madeline’s face (from her skull) somehow gain her distinctive beauty spot? And even when the guilty party is identified, can they be brought to justice?

Well, at least one of those questions won’t get an answer…

This is the fifth Thatcher Colt book, and it came after a break of three years from the fourth, About The Murder Of A Circus Queen. The first four, including The Crime Of The Century/About The Murder Of The Clergyman’s Mistress/The Murder Of The Clergyman’s Mistress/The Mysterious Murder Of The Blonde Play-Girl, are very similar in style to early Ellery Queen/SS Van Dine but this one is much more of a procedural.

The set-up is intriguing – how did the medium know where the body was? Is the recreation of her face a little too exact? – and Abbot’s knowledge of police procedure is excellent. Well, I presume it is, I’ve nothing to check it against. Some of it is quite depressing, to be honest – such as how only certain types of criminal get a violent third degree interrogation from the police, whereas the rich white suspects just get nasty questions. That’s not a problem for me, but what is a problem is that, unlike the aforementioned title, the only other Abbot that I’ve read, the plotting here lets it down.

It’s such an interesting premise, but Abbot doesn’t do a lot with it. The identity of the murderer is disappointing, the explanation of some of the early complexities are prosaic (and make one character look like an idiot to be honest)… there’s a lot of good work with the motivations at the end of the book, and a fantastic end to the penultimate chapter. But going in expecting another twisty puzzle and finding that not to be the case was a bit of a disappointment, I’m afraid.

Oh, (about) (the) title of the blog. Depending on which edition, it’s either About The…, The… or just … No idea why.


  1. This was my introduction to Anthony Abbot and remember not disliking it, but it’s not a patch on earlier novels like About the Murder of the Night Club Lady or About the Murder of a Circus Queen.


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