Saturday, October 8, 2011

Murder Leaves a Ring, by Fay Grissom Stanley

As I’m putting my collection of book fronts back together once more, I have had the chance to revisit some of those that I’ve not seen in a long while. This one is among them, the 1953 cover of Murder Leaves a Ring, by Fay Grissom Stanley (1925-1990).

A fabulous title. But sadly, opines Michael E. Grost wrote in a short biographical sketch, the story Stanley tells isn’t equally clever:
The murder takes place in a basement apartment in chic Greenwich Village in New York City, just like Kelley RoosThe Frightened Stiff (1942). And like Roos and other members of the [S.S.] Van Dine school, the book is set against a background of New York intelligentsia, theater people, writers and models. The first half of the book (Chapters 1-9), describing the crime and the original murder investigation, is not bad at all. There is a floor plan, and we follow the movements of the characters around the crime scene with it, in the pleasant Van Dine school tradition. These scenes are logically constructed, and show moments of invention. Stanley also does a reasonable job evoking New York City cultural figures, and the book’s first half is readable and interesting. But then the book goes downhill into grimness. There is also no Great Detective here, something that is sorely missed, and no clever puzzle plot ideas in the finale. This reader was also disappointed that the book largely lacks the humor present in its title. Instead, the book is often soap opera like in its tone. The policeman hero of the book, Captain Steele, is intelligent, but mainly he exists as a romantic foil for the narrator heroine of the novel. A book like this is a mixed bag. It is not good enough, or successful as a whole, to recommend reading to anyone; yet it is not illiterate junk, either.
Hmm. Not exactly a roaring recommendation. Steve Lewis is somewhat kinder, though, in a piece he wrote about the same book for Mystery*File several years back:
It’s told by the primary protagonist, Katheryn Chapin, a would-be mystery writer herself, as we learn on page one: she’s working on the manuscript of a novel called “Murder on Monday,” just before climbing into a tub, where she first must clean the ring left behind by one of her two roommates, a showgirl named Iris McIvers.

Later on, during a party of fellow Manhattanites, many in the world of the theater, it is Iris’s body who’s found in the very same tub, fully clothed, but with a stocking knotted tightly around her neck. It is learned soon after that Iris had been doing a brisk business of shakedown, if not out-and-out blackmail, among other secrets that Katy and Bonnie, the other roommate, had not known about her.

One of Iris’s recent meaner tricks was that of stealing Katy’s fiancée from her, a writer of plays named Mark, and it is her that Katy tries to protect when questioned by the police in the form of Captain Steele, who castigates her quite vigorously on pages 76-77 for both her lack of observation (significant, he suggests, for someone who hopes to write mysteries) and/or her lack of cooperation (for which at least the reader knows the reason).

There is a long laundry list of suspects in
Murder Leaves a Ring--all to the good!--all with varying degrees of conflicting interests; a map of the three girls’ apartment even before page one--and it’s needed!; and an elaborate trap for a suspected killer toward the end. And if I were to mention several twists in the tale along the way, I hope you will forget that I said that, as the pleasure’s in the reading, and not in the reading about it.
Fay Grissom Stanley saw only two of her mystery novels published, Murder Leaves a Ring and Portrait in Jigsaw (1975). I have never seen that second work, but artist James Meese’s cover illustration for the 1953 Dell Books edition of Murder Leaves a Ring definitely makes it worth adding to my bookshelves someday.


Bill Crider said...

The classic "body in the bathtub" cover.

Tom Johnson said...

Great Blog! I love vintage paperback covers. Our Yahoo Group at Action Sixties has hundreds of old covers in albums