Friday, May 2, 2014

Odor of Violets by Baynard Kendrick: A review

Norma Treadwell is the fourth wife of wealthy theatrical producer Thaddeus Treadwell. She is also the stepmother of Gilbert Treadwell, a 28 year old engineer who is designing bomb sights for American war planes (It is the year 1940), his younger brother Stacy, and their 18 year old sister Barbara (Babs). Norma had previously been married to Paul Gerente, and now she has come to believe that Barbara is secretly seeing Gerente. When Barbara leaves their home, and goes to New York city, Norma follows her to Gerente's apartment hoping to break up the relationship. When she enters the apartment, she finds Gerente dead on the living room floor. Norma is much too terrified to see if any one else is in one of the other rooms in the apartment. When she sees Bab's galoshes near the door, she picks them up and flees.

On the same evening, Captain Duncan Maclain receives a visit from a man who says that he is Paul Gerente, and that he has brought secret documents from Colonel Macolm Grey who is head of G-2, American intelligence, in New York. After Gerente leaves, Maclain becomes suspicious of him, goes to Gerente's apartment and finds the dead body of the real Gerente.

Thus Duncan Maclain is drawn into this rather complex mystery. Maclain, who is a professional detective, is blind. He was blinded during his service in the first World War. With a great deal of self-discipline, he has developed the ability to solve crimes without the use of his eye sight. He is assisted by two dogs, an able assistant  Spud Savage, and his chauffeur and valet, Cappo.

It now seems that Babs has disappeared and has possibly been kidnapped, and Maclain is hired to locate her. He goes to the opulent home of the Treadwell's in Connecticut, and finds that an attack has been made on Norma Treadwell in Gilbert's workshop in the basement of the house. Then a maid is beheaded with a medieval battle axe. Maclain believes that all this is linked to an effort to obtain the plans for the bomb sight which Gilbert is designing. It is up to him and his assistants to solve two murders, a kidnapping, and a plot to steal the secret of a bomb sight which is essential to the American war effort. And to find out why there is an odor of violets present at the scene of these crimes.

This book was published in 1940. It is out of print, but used copies are available at Amazon. It was made into a movie, Eyes in the Night, in 1942. It starred Edward Arnold, Ann Harding, and Donna Reed, and was directed by Fred Zimmerman.

Baynard Kendrick was the first American to join the Canadian army in World War I. A friend of his was blinded in the fighting, and Kendrick developed a life long interest in the abilities of the blind. During World War II, he served as an instructor for blinded veterans. He was the only sighted  member of the  Blinded Veterans Association. He was also a founding member of the Mystery Writers of America and held membership card number 1.

1 comment:

Bev Hankins said...

I've heard mention of the Duncan Maclain books before, but this is the first review I've had in the Vintage Mystery Challenge. Thanks for this--makes me want to find one of my own. Especially the mapback edition-- I love those!