The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G Eberhart (1934)

The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G Eberhart

6 stars (6/10 stars)

So this was murder. This was murder, and it happened to people one knew, and it did indescribable and horrible things to them. Frightened them first, perhaps. Fear of murder itself came first—simple, primitive fear of the unleashing of the beast. And then on its heels came more civilized fear, and that was fear of the law, and a scramble for safety.”

The Cases of Susan Dare collects the adventures of a young author who writes “murders…lovely, grisly ones with sensible solutions,” but doesn’t see why her fictional sleuths should have all the fun. Aside from her series detective, Nurse Sarah Keate, Mignon G. Eberhart’s work usually focuses more on romantic suspense than crime-solving, so it’s a nice change of pace to see both elements combined in these stories. Continue reading “The Cases of Susan Dare by Mignon G Eberhart (1934)”

The White Dress (1946) by Mignon G. Eberhart

The White Dress by Mignon G Eberhart

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“Your future is before you. Or, if you choose, it is already behind you.”

There’s no reason for Marny to feel so uneasy about this trip. After all, her boss, airline owner Tim Wales, has invited her to his family’s vacation home in Miami many times. She gets along well with his daughter Winnie and his much younger second wife Judith. It’s foolish to worry, but she does.

Maybe the reason has something to do with Andre Durant. The handsome stranger appeared in Marny’s life only a week ago, but she is strangely drawn to him. When they arrive in Miami, however, she starts to wonder just how much she knows about Andre. She’ll have even more cause to wonder when a dead body turns up on the Wales estate, the body of a woman with ties to Andre. But Marny’s nightmare is only beginning, for the description of the killer matches only one person—Marny herself.

The White Dress is an enjoyable but fairly basic example of Mignon G. Eberhart’s brand of romantic suspense. This particular entry offers up murder in a swanky Florida mansion ringed by balconies that always seem to be teeming with aspiring murderers. Perhaps it goes without saying that Marny confronts the killer during a hurricane, in a genuinely hair-raising scene. Sadly, the fact that our protagonist shows any intelligence at all during that sequence is the most surprising part. Despite being an ambitious business executive in line for a vice-presidency, Marny is astonishingly witless. Everyone keeps telling her, “You may be smart in business, but not in your personal life.” The latter is definitely true, but sadly we see no evidence of the former.

One thing Eberhart always delivers is a glamorous setting. We know Marny’s sense of foreboding is serious, because even the sight of beautiful Shadow Island cannot dispel it.

Something was wrong with her, something that the tropic twilight, the lush greens, the bright scarlets, the sweet, humid air had sharpened, rather than lulled. It was like a bud, that small hidden sense of uneasiness, forced by the tropical air into swift, full—and rather sinister—bloom.

There are the usual two suitors for Marny to choose from: Andre, who may not be as shady as he looks (but then again, he might be!) and Commander Bill Cameron, who literally pops up out of the shrubbery to tell Marny that Winston Churchill has sent him to Miami to prevent World War III. Neither of these men seem like great options, to be frank.

The White Dress by Mignon G EberhartMarny tries to quell her fears by making out with Andre in front of a hibiscus bush, but she’s distracted by the very real possibility that Bill might still be lurking in the foliage. This is a legitimate concern, as shrubbery seems to be Bill’s natural habitat. A confused Marny stumbles up to her room only to be greeted by Cecily. The fragile young woman says she won’t give Andre up, to Marny or anyone, and she flashes a gun to prove it. Before Marny has time to process this new information, Cecily is found dead: shot, according to a passing pilot, by a woman in a white dress.

Not only is Marny the only woman in the house who owns a white evening dress, all of her dresses are white. How can she possibly prove her innocence, especially with the other potential suspects being so wealthy and influential?

The investigation unfolds with no particular urgency, perhaps due to the impending hurricane. Eberhart nails that sense of restless expectancy when you just know a disaster like a major storm or statewide lockdown is on its way, you just don’t know exactly when it’s going to strike. Marny whiles away these hours eyeing one of her beaux suspiciously.

He looked no different. There was only a curious blankness about his face. As if he had not put on his usual mask of charm, of gaiety, of humanity. He drew nearer. His eyes were blank, too, and curiously opaque. It was the look of a creature from another and unknown world, something alien, something walled and untouchable by its own choice and being—and something evil.

Meanwhile, she follows the other man around adoringly while he tells her what to do. Only rarely does it occur to her that she knows both of these men equally well—which is to say, not at all.

The White Dress by Mignon G EberhartThe biggest drawback of the book is that only a few characters in addition to Marny are singled out for more nuanced portrayals, most of them men. This lends a slightly monotonous quality to the middle passages, where Marny drifts around in a haze, interacting mostly with her love interests. It’s hard to evaluate other suspects when we never spend much time with them. The interplay between women is always the most intriguing aspect of Eberhart’s work, and that is sorely missed here.

Thankfully, the hurricane and a mysterious phantom snap Marny out of her romantic reverie, at least for a little while. The ending of The White Dress works psychologically, even if the logistics are iffy. Sometimes with an unlikely solution, it’s best to just power through and try to get it done as quickly as possible, before the reader has time to think about it too much. This conclusion is actually one that could have seemed much more plausible if given a little more time to play out. Marny’s romantic choices, on the other hand, will never seem plausible no matter what.

Second Opinion

Kirkus, 1945

Haute couture in a good blend of romanticized mystery detection with psychological highlights.

Availability

The White Dress is out of print, with many affordable used copies available.

 

Wings of Fear (1945) by Mignon G. Eberhart

Wings of Fear by Mignon G Eberhart

6 stars (6/10 stars)

“Murder had followed her; it had reached out toward her from the flying black shadows of the night. There was no reason, no motive, but the sheer fact of it was inescapable.”

It may look like Monica Blane is dancing at the Stork Club. In reality, she’s a million miles away—five years away, to be exact. That’s when the outbreak of war separated her from her friend Linda, and from John Basevi, the man she loved. Just as Monica begins to wonder if it is time to move on with her life, she receives an unexpected message from Linda. If Linda is still alive, then perhaps so is John.

The evening ends with a nightmarish discovery: a dead man in her apartment. She is soon on board a midnight plane to Mexico City, on her way to John with $10,000 cash tucked in her girdle. But what will Monica find when she arrives? Continue reading “Wings of Fear (1945) by Mignon G. Eberhart”

The House on the Roof (1935) by Mignon G. Eberhart

The House on the Roof Mignon G Eberhart book cover

6 stars (6/10 stars)

Queer how few relatives were actually close. Queer how few friends one could actually go to and say: ‘I’ve just been involved in a murder.’ How few—why, there was no one! No one at all.”

Until today, Deborah never knew about the little house on the roof of her apartment building, accessible only by fire escape. Nor did she know about Mary Monroe, the reclusive former opera singer who lives there, surrounded by memories of the past. But a chance encounter with Mary leads to an invitation that will change both of their lives. The house on the roof is about to become a crime scene. Deborah has only seconds to decide: should she stay inside and be arrested for murder, or flee onto the roof where a killer still lurks in darkness? Continue reading “The House on the Roof (1935) by Mignon G. Eberhart”

Hasty Wedding (1937) by Mignon G. Eberhart

Book cover of Hasty Wedding by Mignon G Eberhart (1937)

8 Stars (8/10 stars)

“When this thing is over,” she said, “we’ll have to start getting an entirely new set of servants.”

The wedding went off without a hitch. Dorcas Whipple was resigned to the forced ending of her relationship with Ronald Drew and the hurried marriage of convenience to a suitable family friend. The guests know all about that. Most of them have seen this morning’s headlines, screaming of Ronald’s suicide on the eve of his beloved’s wedding. But none of them, not even her groom Jevan Locke, know that Dorcas was in Ronald’s apartment last night.

The bride allows herself a grim relief as the car pulls away from the church. Then, her new husband takes her in his arms. “I know you killed him,” he whispers.

Continue reading “Hasty Wedding (1937) by Mignon G. Eberhart”

The Pattern (1937) by Mignon G. Eberhart

The Pattern by Mignon G Eberhart

5 Stars (5/10 stars)

“Later, after she’d turned out her light, Nan went to the window and looked out through the pines toward Haven. There was no light anywhere. But then you couldn’t see the lights in the house anyway. She thought fleetingly of the chintzes and books and cushions in the living room of the house on Haven as she had seen them Sunday night. Chintzes she had chosen—bookshelves she had planned. And never, selecting that chintz pattern, had thought of seeing it as an intruder. Seeing it on a dark, still night, with no one in the house and a canoe drifting on the lake.

She wondered when they would be arrested—she and Jerome—for the murder of his wife.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from classic crime, it’s that you should always, always give your husband a divorce when asked. Adultery, debt, blackmail, gambling…all of these are potentially survivable. Refusing a divorce is the only action that results in murder every single time.

Nan Bayne is finally returning to Tredinick Island, three years after her heart was broken there. That’s when she learned that her fiancé Jerome was in love with another woman. Jerome and Celia are married now, and the honeymoon is definitely over. All the neighbors agree that Celia “is a vixen…she’s rotten at the core.” Now she’s getting drunk with their teenage neighbor while Jerome canoodles with Nan on the beach. Divorce would be such a simple solution, but Celia doesn’t see it that way.

Needless to say, Nan decides to reason with her rival by rowing across the lake at midnight in the fog and breaking into her house. Celia isn’t at home, but someone or something seems to be lurking. A panicky Nan crashes her boat into an empty, yet suspiciously heavy, canoe. The next morning Celia’s body is found in the canoe. She’s been shot in the head. Her husband is nowhere to be found.

Continue reading “The Pattern (1937) by Mignon G. Eberhart”