Fletcher Flora (1914-1968) was born in Kansas and served in the U.S. Army during World War 2. After the war, he became a mystery writer while continuing to serve as an Education Advisor to the Army. The promise of sex in his novels is always front and center in the marketing, but his stories were never as graphic as the tawdry covers promised. Flora’s “Killing Cousins” was a 1960 hardcover later reprinted in 1961 as an Ace Double and several other times since then. It’s currently available as both an ebook and audiobook.
Willie is married to Howard, but she’s also the town slut in their affluent suburb of Kansas City. It seems that a sizable number of men in the town - certainly at their country club - have taken their turn with Willie over the years. One some level, Howard knows this is happening and chooses to look the other way like a good cuckold.
All this changes when Howard catches his wife servicing his brainy cousin, Quincy. Willie’s infidelity with a family member is a bridge too far, and Howard packs his bags to leave Willie once and for all. This leads to an altercation in which Willie shoots Howard dead with a pistol in their home. No spoilers here - this early-novel killing is disclosed in the opening pages.
Of course, this is just the novel’s setup. The heart of the story is how Willie deals with the dead body of her husband lying in her bedroom. She enlists the help of her lover Quincy to manage the disposal of his cousin’s corpse while planning the elaborate cover-up together.
Flora writes “Killing Cousins” in a breezy and darkly humorous style reminiscent of a good episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.” This tonal choice makes sense as the author sold dozens of stories to Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and anthologies throughout his writing career. The focus is not on the horror of Willie’s infidelities and husband-killing but rather how she and Quincy navigate suburban norms and niceties in their attempt to get away with it.
I enjoyed the hell out of this short novel and you probably will too with three important caveats: First, all the characters are pretty reprehensible, so there’s no hero to really get behind. Second, it’s not an action-packed novel at all. It’s more like a chess match between the protagonists and the their obstacles. Lastly, this is a crime novel, not a mystery. There are twists and surprises along the way, but there’s nothing for the reader to solve. None of these issues detracted from my enjoyment of the book, but you should know what you’re getting. Recommended.
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