Crime Fiction Alphabet: P is for Potts

It appeals greatly to the logical side of my mind that the book I am writing about for P in my Crime Fiction Alphabet was published as a green Penguin. Actually, I had a wonderful choice from three books by Pamela Branch and three by Jean Potts, all sitting unread in a bookcase. They all look very promising, but when I picked them up to try to make a decision The Man With The Cane by Jean Potts won the day.

The concept – which I will come back to – was simple, elegant, and original, and the opening was lovely. I was immediately transported to New York in the 1950s and I was quite captivated as I met Val and watched him leaving his apartment, charmingly negotiating his way past the elderly neighbours who thought that he was lovely. I tended to agree with them.

And so I was on my way, happily following a man I was inclined to like and trust through the story. I realised that I was being steered by a clever author, but I really didn’t mind.

Val was going to see his daughter. He hadn’t seen her for some time as his ex wife and her new husband had moved away, but now they were back in New York and regular visits could begin again. The two had a lovely afternoon, and when Val arrived home he met a new neighbour, a lovely young woman.

The story was moving along nicely, with an interesting mix of characters, a wonderfully evoked setting, and lovely writing. All in all, a wonderful period piece.

But of course there had to be a crime. And indeed there was. Val and his new neighbour found the body of a man who had, apparently, been battered to death with his own cane.

Shocking enough, but Val was even more shocked when he saw that the dead man fitted his daughter’s description of her imaginary friend Cane. Fitted it exactly.

That was the concept that intrigued me, and Jean Potts handled it well.

The police, of course, investigated. And Val, sure that his ex wife’s family must be involved somehow and concerned about the implications for his daughter, made investigations of his own. He stayed close to the family, watched them, talked to them …

Facts emerged. People reacted. Things happened …

Poison pen letters. Blackmail. A suicide attempt …

There were just enough details, just enough twists to hold my attention. The style was lovely and the pacing just right, so I raced through the pages. The plot was not too complex, the conclusion was not too surprising, but it was elegantly constructed and very well written.

It was the characters that really made the story sing, that kept those pages turning. I’m disinclined to list them because they just weren’t the sort of characters it is east to sum up in a few neat words. They were simply drawn, distinctive and utterly believable, in words, deeds and relationships.

And though the resolution may have been predictable it was the right conclusion to a quiet, intelligent human story.

And it’s an ending that makes me think I must read Jean Potts’ other novels soon …


The Crime Fiction Alphabet is hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise.

“Each week, beginning Monday 10 January 2011, you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week …”

And so next week Q is for … ?

7 responses

  1. Jane – A fine choice for “P!” I have to admit I don’t know enough about Potts’ work, and I haven’t read this one. But I like mysteries where it’s as much about the characters as it is anything else. I shall have to see if I can get hold of this one…

  2. I’m afraid Jean Potts seems to be out of print Margot, but her books seem to be available at reasonable prices secondhand.

    This is very definitely character driven, with the police investigation barely mentioned, and it works very well.

  3. Q (in this context) immediately makes me think of Ellery Queen, and I haven’t thought of him for years.

    I think this novel by Ms. Potts sounds, well, lovely.

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