Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murder in Stained Glass by Margaret Armstrong

Margaret Neilson Armstrong (1867–1944) was a well-known book cover designer with some 270 books to her credit, working for A.C. McClurg, Scribner’s, and other publishers. Her covers generally had a plant theme and were in the Art Noveau style. Authors for whom she designed include Frances Hodgson Burnett, Charles Dickens, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Henry van Dyke. When dust jackets rose in prominence, she began writing her own books.  From 1911 to 1914, she traveled throughout the Western United States and Canada, discovering several species of flowers as yet unidentified. The results of her research were compiled in her Field Book of Western Wild Flowers (1915), which is considered the first comprehensive guide on the subject.

After that, she wrote three mysteries, the first of which, Murder in Stained Glass (Random House, 1939), was no doubt informed by her father’s and sister’s extensive work in stained glass. In her sole appearance Miss Trumbull of New York visits a school friend in a small New England town. Expecting a tedious stay, she is pleasantly surprised to find a lively young cousin staying with her friend and that the cousin has an attractive young neighbor. The neighbor’s father is Frederick Ullathorne, a noted stained glass artist, known for his temper as much as his talent. The privacy-loving Ullathorne has just moved his studio to the small town to get away from the noise of New York City.

Mr. Ullathorne hasn’t been in the area long but his irritability and unpleasantness has managed to upset many of the locals. When he is murdered in a particularly gruesome way, there are any number of suspects for the authorities to consider. Miss Trumbull is not impressed with the detective leading the investigation so she undertakes her own.

This is a traditional mystery, much in the style of Agatha Christie. Miss Trumbull tends to ask a number of questions, heedless of the danger she is putting herself into. A friend warns her against getting involved, but in true cozy heroine style, she persists until she finds herself in a confrontation with the murderer. A fine comfortable read.

Cover from the 2015 reissue by Lost Crime Classics.

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