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13 Thirteenth Street by Natalie Sumner…
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13 Thirteenth Street (1932)

by Natalie Sumner Lincoln

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This was the final novel by Natalie Sumner Lincoln, after a career of mystery writing that began in the early years of the 20th century. This is one of her standalones, and like most of her works is set in Washington DC, with events unfolding on the fringes of the diplomatic community. When the body of dancer and socialite, Countess Ilda Zichy, is found in an empty house on Thirteenth Street, police attention focuses upon Colonel Wayne Campbell---even though he has only been back in the US for a few days after spending many years in Europe, and only took legal possession of the property, which was left to him by his aunt, four days before the murder. As Ilda's last movements are traced, suspicion becomes divided between Campbell and his step-son, Count Wolfgang Erdody; while rumours of love-triangles, indiscreet letters and blackmail begin to circulate. There is also a story that Ilda was secretly married, though no-one knows the identity of her husband, whom she met before she became famous. Wolf is attached to the Hungarian Legation and so for a time the police are held at bay by diplomatic immunity; and in defence of both himself and the young man, Campbell finds himself forced to conduct an investigation of sorts... 13 Thirteenth Street is a fair mystery that offers the reader (at least until its climax) some good, fair-play plotting and clues. However, its main strength is the positioning of Colonel Campbell as reluctant, almost involuntary, detective: a role he assumes in earnest quite late in the novel, after a second murder occurs, and the police - the thick-headed, third-degree types so often found in American mysteries - begin to close in. To that point, this is more the story of an ordinary person who finds himself caught up in a police investigation and under suspicion than a murder mystery as such. As a detective, Campbell is very much making it up as he goes along, with as much luck as judgement in his discoveries; although he does succeed in undermining the police's case by investigating the whereabouts of all the keys to the house, and by showing that several people close to the case own similar cars. All this is believable amateur stuff; so it is annoying when, at the last, he whips out a jury-rigged microscope and forceps and turns Sherlock Holmes. Even more annoying, after voicing his suspicions of a particular person for chapter after chapter, it then turns out he really suspected someone else all along---this, mind you, from a first-person narrator! Ultimately, cheat-y choices such as these lessen the book's success; while its attitude to its minority characters is also an issue.

    "Inspector Judson, you have implied that a most serious charge is to be laid against me"---I stopped as he took from his inside pocket a legal-looking document.
    "Go slow, Colonel," he cautioned. "You forget this warrant sworn for your arrest last Sunday is still out against you."
    "And that fact alone proves you have no case," I retorted, my anger finding vent at last. "Do you suppose for one instant that I would have been allowed my liberty otherwise?"
    "G'wan, we've been kidding you," exclaimed Judson derisively.
    "To the extent of giving me an opportunity to murder Aunt Polly---"
    My scorn stained Judson's weather-beaten cheeks a deep red. "Well, no, we didn't bargain on that," he admitted.
  lyzard | Jan 22, 2016 |
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To my cousin
FLORENCE LINCOLN WASHBURN
A critic, just, discreet and kind, this tale of plot and counter plot is most affectionately inscribed.
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I kicked the smouldering logs into a brighter blaze and, stooping, held my hands towards it, an involuntary act, for the sputtering in the radiator indicated heat was coming up and the need for an open fire would soon be past.
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