Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Case of the Crumpled Knave by Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher to me these days means his namesake mystery conference, Bouchercon, which is one of the highlights of my year. Then of course I have read many of the anthologies of short mystery fiction he compiled and edited. Reading his own mystery fiction has taken a backseat until recently. His second mystery The Case of the Crumpled Knave (Simon and Schuster, 1939) and the first with Fergus O’Breen, a private investigator, is set in Los Angeles. It opens with Humphrey Garnett, a semi-retired chemist sending a telegram to a retired military friend in New York, urging him to fly west immediately to help with the inquest on Garnett’s own death.

An opening in which a character predicts his own death is an attention-grabbing device, even more so when Garnett is dead by the time the friend can reach California three days later. Colonel Rand finds Garnett’s home in the possession of the police and a murder investigation in full swing. The police focus on the members of the household: Garnett’s daughter Kay, her fiancé, Garnett’s research assistant, Garnett’s brother-in-law, and Garnett’s protege. They lose no time at all in arresting the fiancé of Garnett’s daughter, who of course believes they have the wrong person.

Kay is determined to discover the real culprit. Rand and her uncle support her in hiring Fergus O’Breen, a newly qualified private investigator and someone known to Kay from her school days. O’Breen has a habit of referring to himself in the third person as “The O’Breen” which is entertaining at first but could become annoying. He and Rand team up to interview everyone in the household again, especially the protégé, whose reason for being present is not made clear until late in the book. Perhaps it is an indicator of the social mores of the time that a stranger can be added to a house as a resident with no explanation given to the rest of the people living there. I can’t imagine the circumstances under which it could occur now.

Lots of misdirection and another murder occur with some romance before the killer is identified by the police. I found the discussions of playing cards, their history, and their artistic merits that are woven into the book intriguing. An enjoyable read.

Both Jon Jermey and Mike Grost reviewed the book on the Golden Age of Detection wiki here:

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