Monday, May 11, 2009

Cornerstone: Blood Upon the Snow
by Hilda Lawrence (1944).

Note: This continues my occasional series on the Haycraft-Queen Cornerstone list (those mysteries deemed essential by Howard Haycraft and Ellery Queen).Mark East arrives in a small town during a snowstorm to help an aged archaeologist, Joseph Stoneman, with his book. But all is not well: Stoneman and the servants seem frightened, the children know more than they are telling, and the lady of the house keeps to her room with what appears to be a case of severe depression. Soon the cook dies in a suspicious fire, the maid is strangled, Stoneman disappears, and the butler is carrying a gun. East is revealed not as a mere secretary but as a New York private detective.

Lawrence does a superb job with the atmosphere of menace over the entire household, keeping the reader guessing as to the perpetrator. Also marvelous is the portrayal of the supporting characters, town busybodies Miss Beulah Pond and Miss Bessy Petty, who assist East in unraveling the case and do not flinch at danger.

In addition to Blood Upon the Snow, Mark East appears in A Time to Die (1945) and Death of a Doll (1947, called "a treasure of a mystery novel" in 1981 by the New York Times's Mary Cantwell). Baltimore-born Hilda Lawrence (1906–76) also wrote The Pavilion (1948); Duet of Death (1948), which includes two novelettes, Composition for Four Hands (adapted as "The Long Silence" [Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 1963]) and The House; a short story, "A Roof in Manhattan," For Love or Money, ed. Dorothy Gardiner (1959); and a two-part serial, "Nobody Dies but Strangers," Women's Home Companion May and June 1951.

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