Let me introduce you to Henry Gamadge. Maybe you've already met? I'd come across him, rather his creator Elizabeth Daly, a while ago but had never taken the time to get to know Henry. Felony & Mayhem, one of my favorite small presses when it comes to mystery novels, has reissued most of Daly's Henry Gamadge stories. Aside from the attractive format of the books, F&M publishes a variety of different kinds of mysteries including quite a few that fall into the cozy category. They've even taken the time try and match books with readers. On the back of each is a handy designation (Daly falls into the "Vintage" category) as well as the answer to "who's likely to like this?" In the case of Elizabeth Daly's Murders in Volume 2? Fans of Margery Allingham and Agatha Christie. Have I piqued your curiosity yet?
Daly wrote sixteen Henry Gamadge mysteries between 1940 and 195 (she began writing at the ripe age of 62). As a nice alternative to the British cozy which so often has an idyllic country setting, Daly offers a glimpse at the milieu of New York society ca. 1940. Interestingly there were very few references to the war in the book, though the US hadn't entered into the fray quite yet, so perhaps not so very surprising after all. Murders in Volume 2 (1941) is the third book in the series by the way, and the first I've read thanks to a gift donation to the library where I work (this and the fourth and fifth installments respectively were added to the stacks). I'm hoping that F&M will get around to publishing the first two books since I hate reading mysteries out of order if I can help it. One more little tidbit for you, Elizabeth Daly (according to the blurb on the book) was Agatha Christie's favorite mystery writer. I was already sold on the story, but it's nice to know I am in good company.
But back to Henry. He's an antiquarian bookseller, so an amateur sleuth, but he's more than willing to work with the police in his crime solving endeavors. This time around he sort of fell into the work and all along was willing to hand things off to the professionals but you know how society families are. They'd prefer to keep skeletons in the family closet and out of the mouth's of gossips for as long as possible. Anyway, Henry did a more than respectable job in solving the puzzle without much help in any case. Henry is single, thirty-four, well-spoken and intelligent and an expert on rare books. He's even got a cat named Martin (gets an extra mark in my book for that) who plays a small role in the unraveling of the mystery.
Henry is himself of good society. He works out of his home, has a servant or two and his trusty assistant Harold to aid him in his work (books, mysteries or otherwise). One June afternoon Miss Vauregard is ushered into Henry's library posing the craziest question. "Do you believe in the fourth dimension?". As in people or things going into it and then coming out again. Miss Vauregard (and Miss Vauregard is in her sixties) is concerned that her wealthy uncle Imbrie is being duped. In 1840 the family governess went out into the garden one afternoon with the second volume of Byron's poetry. Both she and the book disappeared until 100 years later when both turned up again, neither the worse for wear, though the governess understandably confused. Or is she the governess?
Uncle Imbrie is taken with the young woman, believes her story without question and now the family is worried lest he's being taken for a ride, and perhaps a very expensive ride, since he's worth a pretty penny. Will he rewrite his will? Is the young woman scamming him and the rest of the family? The Bryon appears to be the same edition as the volumes that still remain in the family library, albeit not faded and worn. It's as if the governess was gone only a day. Miss Vauregard and the family ask Henry to investigate sure that Henry Gamadge can be discreet.
The Vauregards are a colorful family. It includes an aging actress with ties to a spiritualist and a beautiful young niece who catches the eye of Henry despite her handsome fiancé. Henry has little trouble puzzling things out, asking the right questions and then stumbling upon bodies as he gets closer to the truth of the matter. Daly writes a smart, intelligent mystery, evocative of time and place. Definitely a good, intellectual puzzler and despite the bodies quite civilized as well.
Needless to say I'll be reading more of Henry Gamadge's adventures. Murder in Volume 2 will be going back to the library and The House Without the Door will be coming home with me. I've read a number of Felony and Mayhem authors/books to know they are a dependably good publisher. So much so I'll pretty much buy any of the books they publish (though I have my own favorites). As a matter of fact I feel like picking up another of their books now. Should it be Henry first or someone else? Hmm. Cozies are perfect fall reading and the weather is going to be turning quite crisp here very soon.