"I had developed a mania for the work of Mignon G. Eberhart, an American author of detective stories, and could read nothing else. Her books, like the films of Alice Faye, were so similar to each other that they may have seemed almost indistinguishable to an untrained eye, but subtle differences between them added piquancy to the expert's taste. Some of her earlier novels were difficult to find, and I would advertise for these in the trade papers. Just as the dreaded moment arrived when I had read them all, a new one was published by the Crime Club." (The narrator in Francis Wyndham's short story "Obsession").
That was the gentle nudge I need to go to my shelves and pull Mignon Eberhart's Death in the Fog, a standalone mystery published in 1933 to read next. As I have finished a few mysteries (posts to hopefully follow soon), I was in need of something new to take their place on my summer mystery reading pile. Eberhard was born in Lincoln, Nebraska so I should be reading her in any case, but the other draw is that she was writing just at the time of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, so this is truly vintage crime.
I'd started reading the introduction to this book, but decided to leave it until I after I finish reading for fear some juicy detail would be revealed. I like not knowing too much before going into any story, but the less I know about a crime or mystery novel the better. Eberhart was, as the narrator in the story notes, quite popular in her day. She was called the "American Agatha Christie" though I think sadly she is not much read these days. She wrote a series of nurse mysteries featuring Nurse Keate and are very much in the vein of a Christie novel in that all aspects of the crime are laid out for the reader to puzzle through.
Death in the Fog is something a little bit different. It is still a mystery but it absolutely oozes atmosphere. It was a dark and stormy night? Go grab a copy of this book, find a nice quiet corner, turn on the tableside lamp and join me in reading! The novel was originally published under the title The Dark Garden and in the introduction it is compared to the "surreal, storm-wracked world" of Jane Eyre or Rebecca. Interestingly it's noted that even when the book was published in the 1930s that a large part of the mystery reading public was made up of women and "at its rather bitter and lonely heart, [the novel is] a book about women."
"Death in the Fog is a mystery novel, written for an audience that consumed--and still consumes, in this new heyday of the genre--four or five such books a week, always demanding something new, something with a hook to keep the interest, a book you can't put down, a page-tuner."
I had to chuckle at that quote--in my case it would only be wishful thinking when it comes to reading several books in a week, though I know people who do consume books that way. It reminded me of the narrator in the Wyndham story, however. I am meant to be giving you a teaser from the story, so here is a little something to help set the scene. The story is set in Chicago and it opens on a very foggy night with a woman waiting. She sits in a large house, rather heavy and ornate and dark. This is not, by the way, our heroine. Her name is Charlotte and she does actually remind me a little of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. Eberhart is very good on setting--so many details to help the reader fix it all in their mind. And yes, lots and lots of atmosphere.
"Very soon the fog would envelop the house. It would be heavy, too, pressing against the windows so that the place would be an island shut in upon itself and bound about by the smothering gray blankness."
"Although as to that there was always a feeling of isolation about the place which was due, perhaps, to the untidy park which lay, darkly unkempt and made wild and uneven by the ravine which twisted through it, between the house and the public road. The whole was enclosed, except on the lake side, by a high brick wall which was old and solid and, somehow, marked the feeling of remoteness and isolation, which characterized the whole estate, although in point of fact it was not remote from the world at all."
I do love it when books cross paths. And in this case, not just books, but a fictional character has firmly placed a book in my hands. How very kind!