Friday’s Forgotten Book: Straw Man by Doris Miles Disney

Doris Miles Disney (1907-1976) published nearly 50 mystery novels, most of which were stand-alone stories. She had three series characters: Jeff DiMarco, an insurance investigator; David Madden, a postal inspector; and Jim O’Neill, a Connecticut police detective.

Strawman (Doubleday, 1951) is the third outing for Jeff DiMarco. Called in to the office with several days still to run on his camping and fishing vacation, he’s assigned the task of investigating what seems to be an open-and-shut case against Lincoln Hunter. Hunter has been convicted of murder. When he’s executed, the $100,000 life insurance policy DiMarco’s company Commonwealth Assurance issued becomes payable to Hunter’s estate. (That’s $986,761.54 in 2019 dollars.) Commonwealth Assurance does not want to pay this princely sum to anyone and tells DiMarco to find a loophole somewhere.

Hunter had been seeing Celia Worthen, a stenographer, even after he met Ruth Copper, whom he decided to marry. When he told Celia he was marrying someone else, she insisted that he had to marry her because she was pregnant. He proceeded with his marriage plans and had to cut his honeymoon short because the police wanted to question him about Celia, who was strangled the night before Hunter and Ruth’s wedding. Hunter cannot account for his time during the crucial window that the murder took place and is indicted for murder.  

This is a classic case of investigation by conversation. DiMarco interviewed everyone who was remotely involved and began identifying discrepancies and inconsistencies, In the end he’s nearly killed by the murderer as he wraps up his inquiry.

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