The So Blue Marble (1940) by Dorothy B. Hughes

Book cover of The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B Hughes (1940)

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“It isn’t as easy as that to have murders forgotten.”

He was deliberately patronizing. “It is obvious that you are lacking in experience, dear Griselda.”

Griselda Satterlee is no stranger to drama. Once a movie star, Griselda abandoned Hollywood three years ago to forge a new career in New York. It’s a peaceful life. At least, until she meets the twins.

On her way home one evening, Griselda is snatched by a pair of sinister men who force their way into her apartment. The kidnappers are handsome twins, one dark and one fair, impeccable in white tie and tails. They don’t want to hurt her (they claim) but are willing to do anything to secure “the very blue marble.” Anything.

Griselda would be happy to hand over the marble, if she only knew where it was. Her quest for the little blue trinket soon turns into a living nightmare that threatens everyone she holds dear.

Her situation is complicated by three individuals: her ex-husband Con and her two sisters. Although they have been divorced for four years, Griselda still cares deeply for Con. She’s even staying in his apartment while he’s away working as a radio journalist. When Griselda discovers that her former husband is connected with the jewel, she is determined to protect him at all costs. Baby sister Missy is another story. The sixteen-year-old is jaded beyond her years, having grown up rich and feral in Europe. She lies to Griselda about her connection with the twins, but why? Oldest sister Ann seems oblivious to everything. Then again, Ann is always perfect on the surface; it’s hard to say what really lies beneath.

Book cover of The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B Hughes (1940)The So-Blue Marble is a sophisticated tale of murder and depravity in New York high society. The characters never venture far from Fifth Avenue, and the lushness of their surroundings lends a surreal air to the nasty goings-on (and they are very nasty). Even as she’s being kidnapped, Griselda can hardly believe it. “Nothing ever happened to her kind of people; things happened to people living down those cross streets in old red bricks or old brownstones. Things threatened silver and gold dancers there in the Iridium Room across. But things didn’t happen to her or anyone she knew.”

In fairness, no one could ever expect the events of this novel to happen to them. The plot is a strange, luxurious farrago of espionage, sadism, secret identities, and midnight meetings at El Morocco. Debutantes stab night watchmen, lounge lizards are slapped in taxicabs, scarlet chiffon handkerchiefs are soaked in perfume. Like a soufflé, it must be consumed quickly or the whole thing collapses. The moment you find yourself thinking, “But what is the marble, anyway?” or “Why doesn’t Griselda just change apartments?” you are lost.

Crime scene map from The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B Hughes (1940)Most of the senselessness of the plot comes from “the horrible twins,” David and Danny Montefierrow. Like a pair of malevolent snakes, they slide into Griselda’s life with terrifying ease. They are accepted everywhere, simply by being well-born, well-dressed young men, and their false, smooth calm makes them seem more credible than Griselda with her genuine fear.

“What would you tell the police?” David points out after the two strangers manipulate their way into her home, which they now refuse to leave. “Two young men escort you home, enter your apartment with you, the door opened by your own key, join you in a quiet drink. You couldn’t say we were housebreakers nor disturbers of the peace.” Even her own family and friends don’t believe her warnings. The twins, dangerous? Why, their mother was a Davidant! They’re seen at all the best nightclubs, such amusing young men. Griselda is in mortal danger, and her friends laugh merrily all the while.

“Why do you stay with them? They’re evil—dangerous. Don’t you know they’re evil?”

Missy’s dark eyes flickered but she asked easily, “Do you think so? I think they’re sweet.” Her eyes were even darker. She looked straight at Griselda. “Danger is sweet.”

There’s nothing funny about the trail of violence the twins leave behind them. They Book cover of The So Blue Marble by Dorothy B Hughes (1940)are sensation-seekers, wreaking havoc for its own sake rather than as part of any defined criminal agenda. The marble is just an excuse. They are constantly popping up, doing something awful, then vanishing, without much rhyme or reason. Though not too graphically described, the sheer quantity of sadistic behavior on display is exhausting. Don’t the twins ever just relax with a good book? By the end, the breakneck pace and degenerate atmosphere are a just a bit overwhelming.

In short, this is a love-it or hate-it sort of book. If you like menace among the smart set that doesn’t stint on descriptions of clothing and penthouses, you’ll probably love it. Fans of logic and plausibility, maybe not so much.

Second Opinion

Clothes in Books

The review phrase that kept forming itself in my head was ‘bonkers but with fabulous clothes and quite an atmosphere.’

Availability

The So-Blue Marble is newly available in hardcover and paperback from American Mystery Classics and remains available as an ebook from Open Road Media/The Mysterious Press.

In the UK, it is published as an ebook by The Murder Room.


5 thoughts on “The So Blue Marble (1940) by Dorothy B. Hughes

    1. It’s a crazy book, and the content is really shocking for 1940. But it’s a lot. I agree that this is the kind of book where you know right away if it appeals to you or not, and if it doesn’t, you’re almost sure not to like it.

      Like

  1. I for one enjoyed the book tremendously though I agree that it’s not quite like anything else. After you’ve read as many books as I have you appreciate it when you encounter something unlike anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

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