Monday, June 20, 2022

The Three Widows

Wisconsin native Bernice Carey (1910-1990) authored poems, short stories, and book reviews in newspapers and literary magazines before becoming the author of eight crime-fiction novels between 1949 and 1955. Stark House Press has reprinted all of these as twofers with introductions by author and blogger Curtis Evans. My first introduction to Carey is her 1952 novel The Three Widows. It has been packaged with the author's 1950 novel The Man Who Got Away With It in the 2019 Stark House Press reprint

This cozy mystery novel features three vacationing women as prime suspects for murder – Mrs. Smith, Ferguson, and Meadows. The three are introduced to the book's protagonist, Melvin, while on vacation in a California resort in Escondido. Prior to Melvin's arrival, he spent the prior days with his wife in Santa Cruz and Yosemite. Oddly, both locations featured law-enforcement recovering a corpse. With the murders following Melvin, he soon finds another dead person at the Escondido resort. Readers know Melvin isn't the killer, but after engaging in chit-chat with the “three widows” he soon discovers they were all vacationing in Santa Cruz and Yosemite. Do one of these women have a penchant for cross-country murder?

The Three Widows is a short, pleasant mystery with one of crime-fiction's most enjoyable tropes – the amateur sleuth. In a hilarious scene, Melvin begins piecing together his gumshoe manual by reading a mystery novel. Soon, he is on the trail breaking into the women's rooms, examining their belongings, and piecing together motives and peculiar pasts. Some of the mystery is removed when readers are placed into the minds of each of the three widows, creating intimate moments when readers learn more about the characters than the investigating bungler. 

Overall, The Three Widows was an excellent introduction to Bernice Carey's writing style, that of the prim and proper mystery novel complete with a dialogue heavy tenderness. Comparisons could be made with another mystery author of the era in Jean Potts, although she is a tad more abrasive. With tragedy afoot, a moderate mystery, and corpses 'aplenty, Carey delivers a solid crime-fiction novel with The Three Widows. Cheers to Stark House Press for keeping the torch lit on these early 20th century classics. 

Buy a copy of the book HERE.

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