“Everybody’s been ruled out. There’s nobody left to kill her.”
Edna Monroe is having a blast on the last Halloween of her life. With her husband out of town on business, she throws a costume party for her girlfriends, and it’s all fun and games until a ghost rings the doorbell.
It isn’t candy that makes this trick-or-treater’s bag so heavy. It’s a gun. Edna is shot dead on her doorstep by a costumed killer who vanishes silently into the Halloween night. Insurance investigator Jefferson DiMarco is faced with a scary situation: a heavily insured murder victim with no enemies and perfect alibis all around. Maybe a little too perfect…
In life, Edna was a homebody, devoted to her husband Mike. Nobody could possibly want to kill her. True, Mike had gone up in the world quite a bit since they were married. She didn’t feel comfortable around his new friends. And Edna had put on a little weight over the years. Her fashion sense was tacky, her social skills limited. One might expect a successful executive like Mike to have a more sophisticated wife, someone like his secretary, Linda Haines. Maybe Mike and Linda thought so, too.
“Couldn’t you just get a divorce from her?” Linda asked quietly.
He raised his reddish eyebrows. “My dear girl, on what grounds?”
She had no answer. Divorce wasn’t granted a man on the grounds that his wife was a frump, a dull soul, however worthy, bird-brained, incapable of keeping up with him. Neither was it granted because a pretty face that had captured a man in his youth had become heavy and unattractive in middle age, or because he had fallen in love with a younger woman.
Yes, this sleek pair might have an excellent motive to dispose of an obsolete wife. The only problem is that Mike was across the country on Halloween night, and Linda was at the theatre with friends. But Jeff DiMarco is sure that one or both is involved with the crime. He digs into their pasts, only to uncover a mystery of an entirely different sort.
I will not pretend that Trick or Treat is great literature, or even a great mystery. But, like most of Doris Miles Disney’s work, it’s an easy, relaxing story written with competence, if not distinction. There are a few little twists along the way, approached slowly so as not to startle the reader. Disney often seems to tiptoe right to the very edge of complicating the narrative and then just…doesn’t. The final chapter, which finally provides full insight into the mind of the killer, is the strongest, and exploring this character more deeply would have made a fascinating inverted mystery or psychological crime novel.
As a straight detective story, Trick or Treat is merely adequate. However, I’ve been bogged down all week with a book that is technically better written than this one, but reading it felt like I was caught in quicksand. It was such a relief to be able to turn to a clear, straightforward story that moved along at a nice clip. Sometimes adequate is good enough.
Trick or Treat (also published as The Halloween Murder) is out of print, with used copies rather expensive. Definitely a trick, not a treat!