“I was, perhaps, the plainest girl in the room that night. I was also the happiest—up to one o’clock. Then my whole world crumbled, or, at least, suffered an eclipse. Why and how, I am about to relate.”
Could you resist an opening like that? I couldn’t, and I’m glad I didn’t, because it pulled me into a fine mystery dating back to 1905.
Miss Van Arsdale was an orphan, who lived with her uncle on the lower steps of New York society. She was aware that, given her age, given her circumstances, given her appearance, her chances of becoming a wife and mother was slim. And she decided that, rather that sitting, waiting and hoping, she would do something with her life. She took up nursing.
Now there was a heroine to cherish!
Attending a grand party, she was swept off her feet by the charming Anson Durand. He even spoke of marriage …
But, of course, it was not seemly for them to spend all of the evening together. And while they were apart Miss Van Arsdale noticed an unusual amount of activity about a certain alcove. It was the alcove where Mrs Fairbrother was seated, wearing her extraordinary diamond, the like of which had never been seen before in New York.
By the end of the evening Mrs Fairbrother was dead, stabbed through the heart, and her diamond was missing. Things looked bad for Mr Durand. He had been seen visiting the alcove, he ‘found’ the diamond, and he had a splash of blood on his shirt. He had an explanation for everything, but his story seemed unlikely. He was arrested.
I might have told Miss Van Arsdale to forget him, to try to come to terms with having been used, but she was a determined and practical woman. And she was going to prove him innocent.
There were other suspects:
- Mrs Fairbrother’s estranged husband was said to be away travelling, but maybe he had wanted the diamond that he had given his wife in happier times back.
- Mr Grey, an English jewel collector had been at the party, and it was strange that he had come to New York with his very sick daughter in tow.
Miss Van Arnsdale persuaded Inspector Dalzell, who was quite convinced that Mr Durand was guilty, that he really should investigate further. He sent an investigator to track down Mr Fairbrother, and he was so impressed by Miss Van Arsdale that he found her a place in the Grey household, as a nurse to Miss Grey, to see what she might find out …
This is a nicely plotted mystery, heavy on dialogue and light on action. Some would call it dated, but I’d call at a period piece.
The small cast, and the narrow field of suspects, meant that it wasn’t hard to predict how events would play out, but I enjoyed the journey. It might have been predictable, but there were one or two surprises along the way, and it was certainly never boring.
I just could have done without the ‘love at first sight’ romance on the night of the party. It felt contrived, and the story would have worked just as well with a colleague, a brother, or a family friend accused of the crime.
But the combination of a fine heroine,intriguing mystery, and an otherwise credible story, worked beautifully.
The ending rounded things off nicely.
And I can quite believe what I read, that the young Agatha Christie read and enjoyed the books of Anna Katherine Green.
I’d certainly be tempted to pick up another one …