The Doorbell Rang (1965) by Rex Stout

The Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“But good heavens, if you know your phone is tapped—isn’t that illegal?”

“Sure, that’s why it’s fun.”

Wealthy businesswoman Rachel Bruner is used to buying whatever she wants. So when she reads an expose of the FBI’s abuses of power, she thinks nothing of buying 10,000 copies of the book to circulate to other leading citizens. Now Mrs. Bruner believes she’s under surveillance by federal agents, and she’s learning that peace of mind is one thing money can’t buy.

Nero Wolfe is another. Mrs. Bruner offers him the biggest payday of his career if he can stop the FBI harassment. The case doesn’t interest Wolfe, however…until he becomes a target himself. Nero Wolfe and his wisecracking assistant Archie Goodwin have never met a case they couldn’t crack, but until now they’ve never been up against the entire Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Doorbell Rang is an audacious shaking-up of the Nero Wolfe formula. After a slow start, the plot hits its stride in a big way when Wolfe concocts an astonishing plan to play the FBI and NYPD off of one another, barely managing to keep on the right side of the law himself.

The book that Wolfe and Mrs. Bruner are so struck by, The FBI Nobody Knows by Fred J. Cook, is a real title published in 1964.  This bombshell was a groundbreaking account of the abuses that had flourished for decades under J. Edgar Hoover’s leadership of the FBI. It’s easy to see how it caught the attention of Rex Stout, who had long been the subject of FBI surveillance due to his political activities. The idea of a mystery novel featuring the FBI itself as the villain must have been irresistible.

The Doorbell Rang by Rex StoutDue to its faceless, amorphous nature, however, it turns out that the FBI does not actually make a compelling antagonist. The early chapters are low on plot as Goodwin and Wolfe become increasingly paranoid and take elaborate precautions to avoid the surveillance they assume they’re under. Archie’s trademark wit is largely absent. (The one who really suffers is Wolfe’s live-in chef, Fritz. Since his basement apartment is deemed impervious to bugging, the two detectives start having all their conferences down there, often while poor Fritz is trying to watch TV.)

Since an unknown figure is trying to have their private investigator licenses revoked, time is of the essence, but Archie runs into one stone wall after another as he tries to get former victims of the FBI to speak on the record. Other than the anonymous complaint to the licensing board, it’s not clear whether any harassment is actually taking place. As Archie points out, however, “Going through a forest where you know there are snipers and one might be up any tree takes only guts and sharp eyes. But if you don’t know there are snipers but only that there could be, that’s different.”

Tensions are soon running high in Wolfe’s brownstone. The mixture of terror and boredom they experience is probably an accurate portrayal of how it would feel to suddenly find oneself on Hoover’s enemies list, and was likely genuinely shocking for 1960s readers. The way it plays out on the page is less than compelling, however. Early on, Archie argues against taking Mrs. Bruner’s case:

You’ve read that book. We couldn’t even get started. The idea would be to work it so you could say to the FBI, “Lay off,” and make it stick. Nuts. Merely raising a stink wouldn’t do it. They would have to be actually cornered, the whole damn outfit. Out on a limb. All right, say we try to start. We pick up one of these affairs and make some kind of a stab at it. From then on, whenever I left the house I’d spend all my time ditching tails, and good ones. Everyone connected with that affair would be pegged. Our phone would be tapped. So would other phones…They have all the gimmicks there are, including some I have never heard of.

This is a spot-on description of the chapters that follow. Archie makes his dispirited rounds, explaining over and over again that he is being tailed and spied upon. It makes sense that these characters might be exhausted after a long siege by the FBI, but the energy leaks out of the book almost instantly, from the first day of the case.

Luckily, things grow much livelier when Inspector Cramer tips Archie off to an unsolved murder. Journalist Morris Althaus was working on a magazine article about the FBI’s strongarm tactics, but someone killed the story by shooting the writer. His research notes are missing. Could his death be part of a cover-up by government agents? Rachel Bruner’s secretary lives in the same building as Morris and witnessed federal agents leaving the building on the night of the murder. There are others with a motive to do away with the victim, however. His editor was in love with Morris’s fiancee, who may herself have grown suspicious of her intended’s womanizing ways. Furthermore, Morris had rejected his wealthy family to become a leftist writer, resulting in a tense relationship with his parents.

With a tangible murder and suspects, Wolfe is back in his own element at last. The Althaus murder gives him a bold idea for how to blackmail the FBI into stopping their harassment. He does indeed “take on the whole damn outfit,” with thrilling results. While this is  not the most devious case Nero Wolfe has ever tackled, it’s solid enough and features some truly unusual, even bizarre, touches as he must find creative ways to work around the FBI surveillance. Compared to the turgid pace of the early chapters, it’s a breath of fresh air. This is what the reader wants—not a defeated Nero Wolfe, but the brilliant detective who loves a good, hard fight and will use all his ingenuity to win.

Writing The Doorbell Rang was probably Rex Stout’s equivalent of Mrs. Bruner sending all those books to strangers, an effort to expose an evil that needed to be more widely known. Though the seriousness of the threat to our heroes drags down the story early on, Wolfe and Goodwin regain their vitality to create a refreshingly different take on the traditional murder mystery.

Second Opinion

FBI Special Agent M. A. Jones, internal memorandum from Rex Stout’s FBI file (quoted in Dangerous Dossiers: Exposing the Secret War Against America’s Greatest Authors by Herbert Mitgang)

The plot of the book is weak and it will probably have only limited public acceptance despite Stout’s use of the FBI in an apparent bid for sensationalism to improve sales. The false and distorted picture of the FBI which Stout sets forth is an obvious reflection of his leftist leanings as indicated in our files.

Availability

The Doorbell Rang is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook editions from Bantam. It was also adapted for television in 2001 as the first episode of A&E’s Nero Wolfe Mysteries; the full episode is available on YouTube.

It’s Raining Violence (1949) by Theodora Du Bois

It's Raining Violence by Theodora Du Bois

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“Much as one loves one’s neighbor it is undeniably more pleasant to have him arrested for murder than to be so arrested one’s self.”

Lane Herbert has made the most hideous mistake. Acting on what she thought were instructions from her father, she has handed over $50,000 in securities to a man impersonating a stockbroker. Now the family is ruined, and it’s all her fault.

The college student sees only one way out of her dilemma. Dr. Jeffrey McNeill and his wife Anne are famous on campus for their crime-solving. Maybe they can get the stolen goods back discreetly. As the McNeills probe the case, however, they learn that the eccentric Herbert family has very good reasons for not wanting the police involved. But when a bullet-riddled corpse lands in their backyard, they no longer have a choice in the matter.

It’s Raining Violence is an amusingly frantic sleuthing-couple mystery that results in a nicely complicated solution. The screwball humor of the Herbert family doesn’t always work, but Anne’s dry observations keep things on an even keel. Jeffrey does not make much of an impression here—Anne is the one with all the brilliant ideas.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Theodora Du Bois, so I don’t really know anything about her series characters Anne and Jeffrey McNeill. Based on the information revealed here, however, they must lead astonishing lives. At one point, their young son refers to a time “before the house blew up.” Anne is shot during the course of the story, an event she is remarkably casual about (it seems to be a regular occurrence). Her biggest worry is whether her best suit has been damaged by the bullet.

It's Raining Violence by Theodora Du BoisClothing is a major preoccupation for Anne; before heading to New York City to interview a suspect, she must change out of her tweeds. “It’s a question of self-respect…My mink coat is too short as it is, and I’d look an absolute fool with the tweed skirt dangling below it like a great wool petticoat.” Indeed, fashion plays an important role in unraveling the mystery. A woman’s shoe is a vital clue. Anne knows the description of a female suspect is fabricated because no woman would wear the bizarre array of clothing described. When Lane goes on the lam bare-legged, the fact that she is wearing “shoes, but no socks or stockings” is considered noteworthy enough to highlight in the APB. Unfortunately for the police, Lane, foreseeing exactly this, has gone to the trouble of contriving makeshift socks out of mittens. (It seems strange that people would find a total lack of hosiery to be more notable than a person wearing mittens on her feet, but there you are.)

If the madcap clan in You Can’t Take It With You were all up to their necks in crime, you would have the Herberts. A lot will depend on how funny you find Lane, her grandparents, and her four uncles, each of whom has a specific verbal tic—Lane speaks in art metaphors, her uncle Monroe has a stutter, Flagg is constantly quoting poetry. Sometimes the joke lands, but there are an awful lot of Herberts, none of whom can stop talking for a second. As police photograph the dead body in the living room, the family entertain themselves by acting out the 1632 tragedy The Fair Penitent. When Anne requests a tour of their mansion, Flagg’s response is, “I’ll be guide, I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury, said cunning old fury. I’ll try the whole cause and condemn you to death. Dear me, Mrs. McNeill, that didn’t turn out very well, did it? Almost too apt. Come along.” This is how most conversations with a Herbert go.

At the same time, there is a sadness to watching the decay of a once-great family. The Herberts’ glory dates back to the reign of Charles I and, while the family has been poor for young Lane’s entire life, her father and four surviving uncles remember growing up rich, with dazzling futures stretching out before them. It hasn’t worked out that way. The family fortune is gone, and so is their beloved brother Courtney. Their parents cling to a way of life that is now extinct. Each of the “boys” has a talent they would like to follow—baking, babysitting, radio voiceovers—but their parents deem these careers too lowly for a Herbert.

“Oh, yes, we have a good time,” he agreed. “That’s the curse of the Herbert family. We have such a good time here in the house that we never have to make any effort outside. If we fail at anything outside, instead of picking ourselves up and taking another shot at it”—Anne thought he paused almost imperceptibly, as if the thought of taking another shot at something had flashed a frightening picture in his mind. He went on, perhaps more hurriedly—”instead of forcing ourselves to force ourselves to try to overcome the failure we creep home with our wounds.”

The four boys know they are ridiculous, they know they are wasting their lives, but it’s hard to leave the cocoon of their mansion and plunge into a harsher world. Only Lane’s father has had the courage to go out and pursue his passion, which happens to be crabs. Though his family is mortified by the crab factory, none of them would mind getting their hands on the $50,000 it’s earned him.

The oddly old-fashioned atmosphere that surrounds the Herbert family even extends to their friends, such as their broker.

Mr. Javits was small and wispy and would have looked more appropriately dressed in brocades taking a pinch of snuff. In fact, it was rumored that he did take snuff, and it was well known that his hobby was the embroidering of tapestry seats for his Hepplewhite dining-room chairs. Four out of eight beautiful rose creations were already finished. He was a most loyal friend and a person of keen business acumen, but he should really have been born in the reign of Queen Anne. There are people who belong in other centuries.

Du Bois has a deft hand with characters and descriptions, and she manages to pull together an amazingly disparate group of clues into a coherent solution. Even if the self-consciously wacky antics of the Herbert family are not always to my taste, It’s Raining Violence is a fast-paced, entertaining read.

Second Opinion

Kirkus, November 3, 1949

Clever, contrived.

Availability

It’s Raining Violence is out of print with very few used copies available. It was also published as a Detective Book Club volume with One of Those Things by Peter Cheyney and Do Not Murder Before Christmas by Jack Iams.

Lonesome Road (1939) by Patricia Wentworth

Lonesome Road by Patricia Wentworth

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“Now I want to say to you with the utmost gravity that you cannot afford to assume anyone’s innocence in this matter. I do not ask you to assume anyone’s guilt, but I do ask you in every case to adopt the same caution as if you were dealing with a person whom you knew to be guilty.”

“But that is horrible!”

“Murder is horrible,” said Miss Silver.

Rachel Treherne is a sensible person. When her staircase is greased with a slippery polish, she dismisses it as a simple accident. After her bedroom curtains catch fire, Rachel is sure there must be some explanation. But when her box of candy is poisoned right after she receives a series of threatening letters, even Rachel must admit that this is more than just coincidence. “You have had that money long enough. It is other people’s turn now,” the letters say. “You have lived long enough…Get ready to die.”

Each January, Rachel rewrites her will, cutting out relatives who have behaved badly during the previous year. Her whole family knows this was her father’s dying wish. Has one of Rachel’s nearest and dearest gotten tired of waiting for their share, or is an unknown enemy plotting against her?

Lonesome Road by Patricia WentworthLonesome Road is a superior entry in the Miss Silver series that deftly examines the horrors of family life. As she attempts to fend off a killer, Rachel learns that every member of her family is a threat to her in one way or another—she is caught in a trap of her own construction. There are two plots unfolding in parallel, each enriching the other. One is the mystery of who is trying to murder Rachel. The other is the question of whether she can make her way through a thicket of family obligations to carve out a life of her own.

Under the terms of her father’s will, Rachel has been given sole control of his fortune. Not only is she in charge of future inheritances, she is also responsible for doling out funds during her lifetime. Rachel’s older sister Mabel Wadlow especially resents being passed over by their father (which, fair enough). She and her husband Ernest are a constant, aggrieved presence in Rachel’s home. They are always trying to cadge money for their children, Maurice the socialist and Cherry, whose “prettiness had something brittle about it—the very fair hair with a sugar-loaf cap crammed on amongst its curls, the very thin hands with their pointed blood-red nails, the painted arch of the lips.” The four Wadlows are Rachel’s closest, and therefore most troublesome, relations.

For a moment Rachel saw them, not as part of her family, but as four singularly irritating and disagreeable people. It was like looking through a tiny hole in a dark curtain and seeing a room beyond and the people in it. A strange room, and strange people. A bright light beat on them and showed her just how odious they were. For that brilliant half minute she disliked them extremely, wondered why she had put up with them for so long, and made up her mind to send them packing. Then the hole in the curtain closed. The light was gone. The moment was over. The Wadlows were family again. You were fond of them, you put up with them, you could never, never, never be rid of them. Even more truly than in the marriage service they were yours till death did you part. It was not an enlivening thought.

Other relatives come and go more irregularly. Rachel’s cousins, the delightful Cosmo and dreary do-gooder Ella, are polar opposites who have only one thing in common: an endless need for cash. Rachel has a special affection for her young cousins Richard and Caroline, who she hopes will marry, but they are acting most suspiciously of all.

All the Trehernes are accustomed to falling back on Rachel’s money, which means they are dependent upon Rachel’s whims. We see her approve some requests for money, deny others, and give some applicants far less than they want. Wentworth also shows the toll this takes on Rachel, whose emotional and financial lives are hopelessly entangled. Still, her business decisions are explicitly tied to moral judgments. Rachel is essentially a more sympathetic version of that rich family matriarch who uses purse strings to control her relatives—a natural murder victim.

Lonesome Road by Patricia WentworthAt this pivotal moment, a new man enters Rachel’s life. Gale Brandon is an American with a certain rough-hewn charm. In Rachel’s experience, however, her fortune is as likely to put men off as to attract them, leaving her pessimistic about romance: “It meant that she must brace herself to meet pain, to endure it, to tread it down.” Her family eagerly points out that Gale has been on hand during at least one attempt on her life. Then again, it’s in their best interest for Rachel to remain single. Patricia Wentworth is known for having a soft spot for young lovers, but it’s also common for her books to feature somewhat older characters like Rachel who get a chance at love later in life. Here, the romances play out more ambiguously than expected. The relationship between Rachel and Gale is handled especially well; their bond is convincing, yet Gale remains inscrutable enough to keep his motives up in the air until the very end.

Through it all, life goes on as it always has, with even the most extreme events having to simply fit in as best they can around the rhythms of daily existence.

Civilized life is at the mercy of its own routine. Whatever may be happening in a household, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner follow one another inexorably. Birth, marriage, divorce, meetings, partings, estrangements, love, hate, suspicion, jealousy, battle, murder, and sudden death—through all these comes the sound of the domestic bell or gong, with its summons to eat and drink. Whether you die tomorrow or today, another meal is served.

The only person Rachel can trust is Miss Silver, a total stranger. This is an early appearance for the former governess, who “was in the scholastic profession for twenty years…I disliked it extremely.” Life as a private detective suits her much better, but she makes good use of her schoolroom demeanor to keep her clients on the straight and narrow. “When it comes to attempted murder, it is no use letting things slide,” Miss Silver chides sternly. Despite her cutesy mannerisms, which find her endlessly knitting baby clothes, worrying about her niece’s morals, and apologetically coughing before she speaks, no one could be tougher or less sentimental on the job than Miss Silver. She infiltrates the Treherne household by posing as one of Rachel’s charity cases. As she explains, “I find that the manner in which people behave to someone whom they consider quite unimportant is often highly illuminating,” and that is certainly the case here.

Many of the books I’ve read lately have nailed the beginning and ending only to lose steam in the middle. Lonesome Road is just the opposite. The opening is pretty standard for this series and the ending, while creepy, is far too protracted. It’s the middle of the book that is so fascinating, as Wentworth digs into the characters of each family member and the actions (including Rachel’s) that created their unhealthy dynamic. The real mystery is whether there is still time for the Trehernes to escape from this situation, or whether they’re already in too deep.

Second Opinion

Kirkus, March 9, 1939

Light — little or no mystery to the alert reader — an affable tale.

Availability

Lonesome Road is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats from Open Road in the US and in paperback and ebook formats from Hodder & Stoughton in the UK. This title is in the public domain in Canada, and a free ebook is available to Canadian readers at Faded Page.

Milk of Human Kindness (1950) by Elizabeth Ferrars

Milk of Human Kindness by Elizabeth Ferrars

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“I can’t see that there’s actually anything to worry about, yet I can’t get rid of the feeling that there’s something badly wrong here.”

She shouldn’t have answered the door. But Marabelle could never resist a knock on the door, knowing that something life-changing might be on the other side. This time it’s her sister Susan, having husband trouble once again. With three tumultuous marriages, Susan always needs Marabelle’s help with something.

Susan’s latest problem comes from an unexpected source: her first husband Norman, the only one she’s always gotten along with. All at once, he refuses to let her see their children. Against her better judgment, Marabelle agrees to intercede on her sister’s behalf. She’ll live to regret that decision—if she’s lucky.

No one could accuse Milk of Human Kindness of being predictable. From the moment Marabelle arrives at Norman’s home, nothing unfolds as the reader might expect. The atmosphere is almost farcical, with strange men popping in and out, midnight house-painting parties interrupted by police, and a closet where dead bodies and stolen objects seem to appear or disappear at will. The results are often funny and always unexpected, yet the anarchic plot doesn’t always mesh with Elizabeth Ferrars’ dryly witty tone.

Marabelle half expects to be turned away from Norman’s door. Instead, her former brother-in-law welcomes her with open arms. He couldn’t be more accommodating, except for one thing—he flatly refuses to discuss Susan. This means that the first mystery Marabelle has to solve is trying to figure out the nature of their conflict. Given that Susan is involved, it could be anything. Marabelle can’t be certain her sister’s account is trustworthy.

Yet, come to think of it, Susan’s moral tone was pretty high. Like Henry the Eighth, she always wanted marriage. I believe she must have been almost as idealistic about men as Henry must have been about women, believing that perfect happiness existed and could be made to sign on the dotted line if one went on looking long enough.

The oddest part of it all was still Norman’s refusal to explain his change of attitude to Susan. To do her justice, it was never difficult to explain awkward things to Susan, since she never took in more than she liked, thus making it next to impossible to hurt her. Whatever Norman had told her, I thought, she would have ended by finding it creditable to herself, and liking him all the better for it. Hers was a very comfortable sort of mind to have.

Ferrars perfectly captures the emotional toll of dealing with a wonderful monster like Susan. Interactions with her are all the more frustrating because her selfishness and cruelty are strangely lacking in malice. She simply says or does whatever comes into her head, never considering anyone else’s feelings one way or the other. Every conversation with her is littered with casually devastating remarks (“Good God, next time you want to buy a hat, you’d better let me know about it and I’ll come along and help you”). Even when Susan thinks she is telling the truth, it is highly colored by her own interpretations, which rarely correspond to reality. And when Susan is lying, the sky’s the limit.

Milk of Human Kindness by Elizabeth Ferrars 2Though they’ve been divorced for years, Susan and Norman have been on good terms until recently. Their children Beryl and Maurice, now young adults, live with their father, but Susan has continued to run the house, right down to hiring the housekeeper. Her latest find, Mrs. Fawcett, seemed like a treasure. Now, however, Susan harbors dark suspicions. “That kind of quiet, sly, meek little woman can be extraordinarily dangerous,” she says. Marabelle thinks her sister is being dramatic, until she meets Mrs. Fawcett and learns about the long line of deceased former employers who remembered her in their wills.

Stranger still, Norman has recently developed an ulcer that requires him to drink “priority milk” or “TT milk.” The distinctive gold bottle cap has the neighbors asking questions. (Since this milk is referred to throughout the book without ever being defined, I will reveal that “TT” stands for “Tuberculin Tested.” The neighbors are probably just jealous that they’re all going to catch bovine tuberculosis from their milk, while Norman isn’t.)

Every time Marabelle thinks she has the tangle of Susan’s current and former husbands straightened out, some bizarre event forces her to revise her theory. Her growing exasperation with this topsy-turvy household is amusing, but not entertaining enough on its own to justify the long lead-up to the first crime. Far more successful is her rapport with Basil, the charmingly flighty housecleaner. It’s Basil’s running monologues about his family, especially his despised brother-in-law, that point Marabelle in the right direction to solving her own family problem.

“Well, I’ll tell you some other things my brother-in-law does,” said Basil, warming up. “He puts his dirty socks away in the drawer and sends his clean ones to the wash. And he sends checks to people without signing them. And he goes and eats all the biscuits in the middle of the night, and then says at tea, ‘Why aren’t there any biscuits?’ And he takes mother’s good cutting-out scissors to cut up pieces of linoleum, and then he takes them to cut his nails and says, ‘These scissors are blunt.’ And he—”

“Listen,” I said. “I don’t believe your brother-in-law has anything to do with this murder. It looks to me as if you want to make him the fall-guy, or whatever it’s called, and I sympathize with you in the attempt, seeing the sort of man he seems to be, but I’m sure it won’t work.”

“I only meant,” said Basil, “that people do queer things. Because a thing seems queer, one shouldn’t say it couldn’t have happened.”

The solution works, but it comes on very abruptly in the last few pages of the book. Though Milk of Human Kindness shares the wit and nuanced characters that make Elizabeth Ferrars’ earlier novel Murder Among Friends so enjoyable, the frenetic plotting doesn’t always give these elements the room they need to really shine.

Availability

Milk of Human Kindness is out of print, with plenty of affordable used copies available.

Prussian Blue (1947) by Anne Hocking

Prussian Blue by Anne Hocking

7 Stars (7/10 stars)

“Father was a bully, a sadist, a vain, selfish man. He liked to feel that you and Catherine and I were in his power. He’s kept you chained to his heels for years, he’s made me feel a worm ever since I can remember, and he’d have mucked up Catherine’s happiness if he could…The man who put him out did a good deed which benefits all of us. I don’t know who he was and I don’t care, but if I knew, wild horses wouldn’t make me tell. I hope he gets off scot free.”

To most of the world, Anthony Medway is one of England’s greatest painters. His family sees him very differently. To his mother, he’s the man who has given her a home, but no love or freedom. To his only child Philip, he’s an abusive father who hates having a crippled son, yet refuses to let Philip access his own money for medical treatments. And to his wife Catherine, he’s the man who loves only her beauty, viewing her as just another work of art.

Anthony has brought these three people, his nearest relations and fiercest enemies, to Cyprus for a new beginning. They soon realize, however, that Anthony will never really change. When he is found dead in his studio, any one of them could be responsible. Every picture tells a story, but Superintendent William Austen will need an artist’s eye to spot this killer. Continue reading “Prussian Blue (1947) by Anne Hocking”

This Is Murder (1936) by Erle Stanley Gardner

This Is Murder by Erle Stanley Gardner

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“I didn’t realize it would be so much fun fooling around with crime.”

“You’re not fooling around with it,” she said, “you’re getting into a game where you’re playing for big stakes and you don’t know what trumps are yet.”

Advertising pays the bills for Sam Moraine, but he can’t help finding it just a trifle dull. So when his poker buddy, district attorney Phil Duncan, is called away to deal with a kidnapping, Moraine is eager to tag along. Little does he realize that he’s about to be drawn into kidnapping, murder, and political corruption—and that his beautiful secretary may  be involved. Moraine wanted excitement, all right, but this might be more than he can handle. Continue reading “This Is Murder (1936) by Erle Stanley Gardner”

Straw Man (1951) by Doris Miles Disney

Straw Man by Doris Miles Disney

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“As for his having been framed—well, who was this unknown man? Who had ever seen him, who had ever heard of him? He was a man of straw.”

Not long ago, Lincoln Hunter was a man who had everything: a big inheritance, a lovely new wife, and a $100,000 life insurance policy from Commonwealth Assurance of Boston.

This isn’t the first time claims adjuster Jeff DiMarco has been tapped to investigate a murder relating to an insurance client. But this time the policyholder isn’t the victim—he’s the suspected killer. Lincoln Hunter has been convicted of murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend, and sentenced to death. When he’s executed, Commonwealth will be on the hook for a big payout…unless Jeff can prove that someone else committed the crime. Continue reading “Straw Man (1951) by Doris Miles Disney”