Showing posts with label Mignon G. Eberhart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mignon G. Eberhart. Show all posts

Monday, September 4, 2023

The Dark Garden (aka Death in the Fog)

Last month, I reviewed Mignon G. Eberhart's novel House of Storm (1949) and enjoyed it enough to pursue another of her 59 novels. Life is short, and my reading time is limited, so I decided to seek out her best. According to the New York Times, that novel is The Dark Garden. It was originally published in hardcover by Doubleday Doran in 1933. It was later published as a mass market paperback and also was printed as Death in the Fog

Katie Warren resides in a large Victorian mansion as a live-in guest of Mina Petrie, a wealthy dying widow. One evening, in the midst of thick fog, Katie and her companion Paul accidentally strike and kill another house guest named Charlotte with Mina's car. The author's description of the bump as the tires roll over the body resonates with the reader and Katie, who consistently hears and plays back this memory repeatedly in her mind. In shock, Katie and Paul return to Mina's house and call the law.

Inspector Crafft, who is either a descendant from Africa or Asia (the author describes him distastefully as “a wiry little brown man”), arrives later to interview Katie to determine details of the accidental death. In doing so, Crafft begins to assemble a suspect list that suggests Charlotte was murdered. While readers, and Katie, seem to think this was simply an accident, Crafft (the star of the show) suggests otherwise. As the clues begin to mount, pointing to various motives regarding dying Mina's will, another person is found dead. 

This sort of whodunit was very common even by the “early” 20th century. It places the emphasis on an investigation of various house guests in a large cavernous dwelling that typically revolves around an inheritance. What makes or breaks these elementary stories is the writing, and Eberhart possesses extraordinary storytelling talents. Her writing is dependent on atmosphere, character development, and a slow, brooding pace that may or may not please impatient readers. One memorable scene involves Katie and a cat peering into a dark room after hearing footsteps. It's such a simple scene that doesn't culminate into anything crucial to the story, but the description, atmosphere, tension, and surreal terror is orchestrated in a superb way. It's uncanny how well Eberhart could paint a room in stark black yet still deliver colorful characters. 

As an investigative, procedural mystery in a “locked room” type of story, The Dark Garden totally delivers. If you love a slow-burn with an emphasis on character development and tight atmosphere, then this book is an absolute must-read. Eberhart was really something special.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, August 25, 2023

House of Storm

Mignon G. Eberhart (1899-1996) authored mystery novels from the 1920s to the 1980s, earning her the praise as America's version of Agatha Christie. In fact, she was one of the leading female crime-fiction authors of her time (and one of the highest-paid) with a total of 59 novels, eight of which were adapted to film. She was awarded the Mystery Writers of America's Grand Master Award and also earned the Agatha Award. Eberhart also served as president of the Mystery Writers of America. 

My first experience with her is the 1949 novel House of Storm, which was originally published by Curtis. My version is the 1964 Popular Library paperback. The book exists in various formats and remains in print today.

The novel takes place over a 24-hour period of time on the fictional Beadon Island in the Caribbean. Like something out of a mid-20th century gothic-romance novel, the beautiful and vulnerable protagonist, Nonie, has recently experienced the loss of her father. With no other recourse, she moves to Beadon Island for a vacation. Eberhart sets the table by providing sheets of rain and prevailing wind as a hurricane descends on the island. This sort of chaos symbolically parallels Nonie's upcoming marriage to an older gentleman named Roy. This culmination of storm and mismatched marriage is the complimentary greeting for a murderer.

With a full house of various characters, a murder takes place when a wealthy woman is found dead. There's red herrings galore, ranging from Nonie's fiance Roy to her one true love of the story, an ambitious man named Jim. Each suspect is interviewed by both the island coroner and police, so the narrative unfolds in a typical armchair detective format – a house full of people with varying degrees of motive. The secluded house hosting a murderer makes for a great atmosphere that Eberhart feeds on. With thick tension, the clues are slowly unveiled to readers. Guessing the killer's identity before the police is ultimately the real thrill, as always. 

If you are a fan of the Agatha Christie novels like And Then There Were None, then this is certainly your cup of tea. For me, I found the narrative required a great deal of attention and patience and the prose was a little uneven. But, there's no denying Eberhart's storytelling strengths of character development and atmosphere. I'll be reading more of the author's work. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.