Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Clue of the Judas Tree by Leslie Ford: A review

Louise Cather is a journalist has been employed by wealthy business man Duncan Trent to ghost write his autobiography. As she takes the train from New York to his country house, Ivy Hill, outside of Baltimore, she little guesses that the autobiography will never be written, and that she will be involved in a murder investigation. When she arrives at his gothic estate, she meets the family and friends of Trent. There is his wife who is self-centered, overweight, and given to obsessions. Her latest obsession is handsome  Dr. Victor Sartorius, who has peculiar beliefs about psychology. There is also her brother Perry Bassett who lost two fortunes in the stock market and now creeps quietly around tending the garden. Trent's  daughter Cheryl is twenty years old and positively normal. She is engaged to the estate manager Dick Ellicott who seems to be a nice guy but older than she is. Louise also meets Agnes Hutton, Trent's secretary, who is very good looking and who seems very efficient.

At dinner the first night, they all seem to be upset because Michael Spur is returning to Ivy Hill. Michael is the son of Trent's business partner. Michael was a victim of shell shock (post traumatic stress disorder) in World War I. After the war, he shot and killed his father during a bout of nerves. Since then, he seems to had led an exemplary life while going to university and working as an engineer. Every one at Ivy Hill fears that Michael's return to Ivy Hill will provoke another attack of his mental problems.

During the first night of Louise's visit, Duncan Trent is shot in his study. Immediately, all, except Cheryl, seek to put the blame on Michael Spur believing that what they feared the most has happened. Lieutenant Joseph J. Kelly from the Baltimore Police Department arrives, and forbids any one to leave. Louise, who had hoped to get out of this situation, is thus drawn into the investigation of Trent's murder and the two other murders which will occur.

I found this book to be an interesting read, but I was not entirely satisfied with the way that the identity of the murderer was neatly found and everything settle in the last chapters. Also not enough was said about Michael Spur's murder of his father which was important to the story, but which was given only a couple of sentences. This book was published in 1933, and readers may find the terms used to describe the African American servants to be offensive.

What is a Judas Tree, you ask? It is a small tree with very bright pink blossoms and heart shaped leaves.  Some say that this is the tree which Judas used to hang himself. Others say that the flowers and seed pods dangle from the branches in the manner similar to a hanged person.

I have read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Challenge in the category of a country house murder.


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