Monday, March 6, 2017

Somewhere in the House by Elizabeth Daly

Henry Gamage, detective and expert on books, was invited to one of the strangest cases of his career. Mrs. Clayborn Leeder invited him to be present at a very unusual family event - the opening of a door which had been sealed for twenty years.

 Mrs. Leeder's grandmother Clayborrn had six children. Noonie was her youngest daughter and was her favorite child. Noonie could play the piano although she was not otherwise too intelligent.  Grandmother gave Noonie special favors, and when Noonie showed musical ability, grandmother had a room at the top of the house soundproofed so that Noonie could practise. Then, at a young age, Noonie died. After this, grandmother shut herself up in her room with only a distant relation, Aggie Fitch, to keep her company. Grandmother had a wax model of Noonie made and placed in the room with the piano. Only grandmother and Aggie Fitch were allowed to enter the room which was otherwise kept locked The family kept quite about this extreme behavior less others should think that grandmother was unbalanced (wasn't she?). When grandmother died, her will stated that the room should be kept as it was until her grandson Garth was 25 years old; he was five years old at the time of her death. On this date, those members of the family still alive, would inherit the Clayborn money.

So the room had remained for 20 years. The family did not, however, want anybody to know about it. They had the room sealed in such a way that the door looked like part of the wall. The outside windows were bricked up. The servants who knew about its contents had been dismissed. Aggie Fitch had left when the room was sealed. The family believed that she had used her savings to go traveling.

The remaining family members had continued to live in the house, because they were living on money given to them by grandmother's estate, and that amount of money was not enough to live in any other way. 

Now Mrs Leeder wanted Gamage there when the door was opened, because she said that she believed that grandmother and Noonie had a valuable button collection which was hidden somewhere in that room, and she wanted an impartial witness present at the opening to search for it. Indeed, when the room was unsealed, something shocking was discovered. This discovery would lead to other crimes and an explanation of an older ones.

Mystery novels of the Golden Age do sometimes contain contrived situations which would never occur in real life in order to give the detective a real challenge. There are perfectly normal people who keep the rooms of loved ones intact after their death. I, however, found the situation in this book a bit extreme. The older family members still seem to do nothing to improve their financial situation, and remain content to remain in that house doing very little for twenty years. Only the very young ones seem to offer any hope of the future. Gamage, of course, solves the mysteries and ties everything up quite neatly. Readers who enjoy complex family dramas will find this book appealing.

I have read this book for the 2017 Golden Vintage Mystery Scavenger hunt in the category of a book with a musical instrument on the cover. This book was published in 1946.

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