“Nothing like a good murder to salvage a bad week end.”
You can’t build a million-dollar business empire without making a few enemies, and Jenny Iverson has made more than just a few. Even old friends Tom and Sally, her hosts for Labor Day weekend, don’t feel they have much in common with Jenny anymore. They must stay in her good graces, however, as Tom is unemployed and they are hoping she will hire Sally as her new assistant. Their entire future depends on keeping Jenny happy this weekend.
The holiday soon veers wildly off-course, as an untimely cold snap and a burnt dinner give way to blackmail and murder. As Tom and Sally are drawn into a web of suspicion, they begin to wonder whether they really know their friends at all.
Thirty Days Hath September begins as a lighthearted mystery before heading to a slightly darker, more complicated place; it’s not just the approach of fall that puts a chill in the air. As the disastrous weekend progresses, Tom and Sally must deal with problems small (the neighbor who brings his guitar to every gathering) and large (the murder of their houseguest). They maintain their good humor throughout, but none of their relationships will emerge unscathed.
When Jenny fails to turn up at the train station, her friends are more annoyed than worried. After all, she’s notoriously demanding and sure to take it out on them. “Who did like Jenny?” Sally wonders. “They wouldn’t crowd a telephone booth.” Actually, Jenny sounds pretty fabulous, prancing along the beach in Schiaparelli and stilettoes. Her luxury beauty products are top of the line:
It was packed in containers shaped like a human hand cut off at the wrist. The hand was outstretched with its offering of beauty, and sprouting from the open palm was a hinged gilt lid stamped with the name of Iverson. Jenny had hired a distinguished sculptor to design this job, and, incidentally, the gentleman must have had a sense of humor or, in any case, of the ridiculous. A more impractical container for creams, lotions, and powders would have been difficult to conceive. Nevertheless, as Jenny often remarked, the glass hand served as an easily identifiable trademark. If your wife had one in the house, people who saw it there would know at a glance you were in the chips.
Still, she can be hard to take. Jenny just fired her sales manager, Pat Blair, for suggesting a lower-cost line for discount stores. It would be a gold mine, but “she couldn’t sleep nights if she knew the poor were rubbing themselves with her creams.” How awkward that Pat and his wife Velma are spending the weekend next door to his ex-boss, and that they came down separately on the same train Jenny was supposed to be taking. Awkward, or convenient?
Richard and Alice Cunningham are the next-door neighbors. They were wealthy until Richard’s twin brother Roy embezzled his money and ran off to South America. Now Richard spends all of his time playing “Gloomy Sunday” on the guitar. Living within earshot, this naturally prejudices Tom against him. “Richard had been brought up to live on inherited money, and when the money went, he couldn’t seem to make a good adjustment. It sometimes seemed to me that his friends had to do the adjusting for him, and spend a lot of energy humoring tastes and pretensions that Richard would have been better off without.”
Interestingly, Tom looks down on Richard for refusing to get a job and taking his wife Alice’s hard work for granted. Tom is also unemployed, however, having been laid off from his architecture firm. Rather than Tom pursuing a different line of work, his wife Sally is getting a job instead. It’s very egalitarian of them, but one wonders if Tom is so annoyed by Richard because they have more in common than he would like to admit.
In fact, while Tom claims to have no problem with Sally taking over as the breadwinner, he does have a condescending attitude toward his wife. He is indulgent when she contributes ideas to the investigation, only to be annoyed when they prove correct.
I stared at Sally. Her face was resolute and her eyes were determined. To tell the truth, I had been both disconcerted and impressed by her reasoning powers. But I was still uneasy about her judgment. It seemed to me the time had come to take my wife down a notch.
Tom, Sally, and their friends encounter a problem that is surprisingly common in older fiction. They consider themselves locals in the community since their families have rented the same beach cottages for decades. They soon learn differently, as various members of their group come under suspicion in Jenny’s disappearance. For the first time, they feel unwelcome in their summer haven, discovering how much the year-round residents actually resent them. It is, of course, unfair for the town police to focus their attention exclusively on the visitors when some of their own relatives are equally likely suspects. Yet it’s easy to see why the locals dislike tourists when Richard complains that the summer people should be accepted because “we come here for years and spend our money.”
Thirty Days Hath September is not a deep story, but it’s a pleasant and lively one. The solution to the mystery is fairly clever—given the focus on humor and mild frights, it’s a nice surprise to find that the mystery plot is also being taken seriously.
Thirty Days Hath September is available as an ebook and is also readable for free online via HathiTrust