Showing posts with label Jean Potts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jean Potts. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Footsteps on the Stairs

I enjoyed The Troublemaker, a 1972 mystery by author Jean Potts (1910-1999). It was packaged as a twofer in 2022 by Stark House Press with Footsteps on the Stairs, the author's 1966 crime-fiction novel. This new edition also features an introduction by author and Passing Tramp blogger Curtis Evans. Many point to Footsteps on the Stairs as the penultimate Potts experience, so I was curious to see how I would respond to it.

Vic is now married to an alcoholic lush named Thelma. But, four years ago he was involved in a relationship with New York interior designer Enid. Both have moved on, but run into each other again in Philadelphia. Pleasantries are made, awkward memories are relived, and soon Vic is cheating on his wife with Enid. The variable is Enid's good friend and neighbor Martin, a clumsy recluse that is recovering from his wife's mysterious murder. He suspects Enid and Vic are a thing, but he is suppressing desires for Enid. When Enid is found murdered, Martin is devastated and feels that Vic is the prime suspect. 

Despite being released as the culprit, Vic is still Martin's number one suspect days after the murder. Only, the murder mystery becomes convoluted when Thelma (again...Vic's wife) begins having an affair and Martin finds out. Did Thelma gain her revenge by offing Vic's mistress or simply by cheating on him? As Martin digs into the clues and becomes the amateur sleuth, he finds an unlikely ally in a young woman named Rosemary, a friend of Enid's. The two begin an investigation to learn who killed Enid, but the suspect list is lengthy. 

Footsteps on the Stairs is laced with all of the traditional genre tropes one would expect from a mid 20th century crime-fiction novel – numerous suspects, an amateur sleuth, clue-scavenging, and of course, the obligatory corpse. I found Martin to be a likable hero, perhaps enhanced with his mysterious past and his problematic self-awareness. His fondness for Enid is his curse, but it's a key to his own salvation as readers understand what Martin's challenges were in his prior marriage. There are a number of small intricacies that contribute to the much larger problem. How they work together is the marvel of Potts' literary work. 

Whether or not this is Potts' finest crime-fiction novel is in the eye of the beholder. I have nothing to compare it to other than The Troublemaker. I endorse both novels and highly recommend the twofer. It's money well spent. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Troublemaker

Author Jean Potts (1910-1999) graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University in 1936. By 1940, Jean had moved to New York City, where she resided the rest of her life. With her newspaper experience in writing and editing, Potts eventually began contributing short stories to mainstream magazines like Woman's Day and Collier's. Her first book, Someone to Remember, was published in 1943, the first of 15 original mystery and crime-fiction novels. Along with winning a prestigious Edgar Award in 1954, Potts contributed to high-profile mystery magazines like Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock. Beginning in 2019, Stark House Press began reprinting many of Potts novels in two-in-one volumes under their Stark House Mystery Classics imprint. My first experience with the author is her 1972 mystery novel The Troublemaker. It has been collected along with her 1966 novel Footsteps on the Stairs as the newest reprint by Stark House.  

Quentin Leonard, finding himself unemployed, explains to his wife Grace that he needs to get away for a little while and spend some time finding himself in the northeast. After deceptively packing for a mini-vacation to New Hampshire, Quentin picks up his lover Lisa and the two of them head to the coastline of Maine. After their car breaks down, they agree to work for the Seaview Inn, a cozy little retreat for tourists wanting to explore the rocky shoreline. 

The two lovers quickly realize there is no real plan other than working the summer away in this picturesque little town. Complicating matters is that Quentin finds a handwritten letter addressed to Lisa from her former lover, a mentally unhinged man named Carlos. Quentin knows Carlos has found them, but he isn't sure if Lisa is more willing to love an older, married man like himself or a former suicide patient in Carlos. It seems that both paths will eventually lead Lisa to future heartache and ruin. But, she never makes it that far. Her dead body is found the next morning on the rocks. 

Potts places numerous characters at the proverbial crossroads. Who has tipped the scale to plunge into this jealous, homicidal rage? The obligatory suspects are Quentin, Carlos, and Grace, a trio of scorned lovers that all have motives for killing off sexy Lisa. What's really odd is that Potts injects some additional characters to create a denser narrative. Carlos' mother arrives in town prior to the murder and there is a guest named Margaret that just happens to have a broken car around the same time period as the murder. There's also the innkeepers themselves. But, the most surprising protagonist is a bird watching boy sleuth named Emerson. Aligning with Quentin, this young amateur detective is determined to find the killer.

The writing in The Troublemaker is propulsive enough to keep the pages flipping fairly quickly. It's a short read and contains enough mounting evidence to keep readers interested. I'm just not sure if this 1972 mystery novel is totally that original. If you are familiar enough with suspense thrillers, or Lifetime movies, the narrative is simply connecting the dots. The grand reveal comes within the last few paragraphs, but it's a sudden conclusion. I wanted a little backstory on the murder and what prompted such erratic behavior. But, overall, I'm not disappointed. It was an entertaining read.

If you enjoy the classic, traditional murder mystery, then surely you will be pleased with Jean Pott's The Troublemaker