RogerBW's Blog

The Gladstone Bag, Charlotte MacLeod 19 February 2019

1990 cozy American detective fiction; ninth of MacLeod's novels of Boston Brahmin Sarah Kelling and art investigator Max Bittersohn. Sarah's Aunt Emma steps in for an ailing friend to play hostess on a private island off the Maine coast, to a party of treasure-hunters who may also harbour criminals.

And indeed this book is told from the viewpoint of Aunt Emma, previously encountered as the best thing in The Plain Old Man; Max and Sarah appear only in some very brief phone calls, though their friend Theonia is brought in to provide a bit of support.

"Standard fortune-telling technique. I'm sure you could have done as well if you hadn't led such a respectable life."

"Don't be a snob, Theonia. If you don't mind, I prefer to go on thinking of you as omniscient. It makes me feel somewhat less uncomfortable about the spot I'm in."

"Then by all means revere me as much as you like. I don't mind a bit."

Emma's luggage includes a Gladstone bag full of stage jewellery that she's planning to repair, and it's first stolen, then returned to her with an addition, then stolen again; clearly something dodgy is going on, even before a body shows up and people start getting hit on the head (without lasting effect, because it's that kind of story).

There's a lot of maundering about how entirely without sense or style young people are, and as usual very little in the way of hard evidence with which one can solve the puzzle, though it's more amenable to logic than many of MacLeod's books have been.

She wondered if the no doubt self-styled count was really planning to write a book. Why shouldn't he be? Most people were, and far too many of them did.

The dénouement is perhaps a bit sudden – Emma says "I can explain everything" and is promptly hit on the head again, whereas one might think the murderer would wait and see whether the explanation would point at them – but it more or less works.

There's very little to this; more clearly than most, it's an attempt to resurrect the between-wars English cosy novel in a setting full of the Way Things Have Always Been Done, but while that's inevitably a failure what's left is an effective short piece that gets its job done and doesn't have too much extraneous material. Followed by The Resurrection Man.

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