Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly

Elizabeth Daly (1879-1967) published her first mystery in 1940 and released 15 more in quick succession, the last one in 1951. Mystery Writers of America referred to her as “the grande dame of women mystery writers” when awarding her a “Special Edgar” in 1961.   The Golden Age of Detection Wiki states: “Daly works in the footsteps of Jane Austen, offering an extraordinarily clear picture of society in her time through the interactions of a few characters. In that tradition, if you knew a person’s family history, general type, and a few personal quirks, you could be said to know everything worth knowing about that person.” All 16 of her books feature Henry Gamadge, a bibliophile and expert on rare books and manuscripts.

In Murders in Volume 2 (Farrar & Rinehart, 1941) Henry Gamadge is invited to solve a mystery within an old, exclusive but now largely insolvent New York family. It seems in 1840 a governess to the family took a volume of Byron’s poems into the garden one afternoon and never returned. Both she and the book vanished forever. The family legend suggested the gazebo in the garden is haunted. Now the patriarch of the family, 80-year-old Imbrie Vauregard, known for his interest in the occult, is convinced that she has returned via the fourth dimension, looking just as she did a hundred years ago, and with the missing book as proof. The rest of the family is understandably skeptical and believes the so-called governess means to swindle the old gentleman out of what is supposed to be their inheritance. They hire Gamadge to identify the newcomer and the source of the book, which is the volume missing from a set of Byron in the Vauregard library.

Gamadge conducts a set of interviews and realizes he must have a photo of the upstart to properly identify her and arrives at the Vauregard mansion with a small camera to secretly photograph her. Instead he finds she has disappeared and Mr. Vauregard has been poisoned.

The family is full of recriminations for each other and Gamadge, although they are still relieved that their uncle did not have time to change his will. Gamadge finds he has to identify the killer to settle everyone else’s mind and to stop more bloodshed.

A smooth, evenly paced read. The milieu is old New York society, even though most of them have lost their money. Gamadge makes an interesting protagonist and the information about the old set of Byron is fascinating to bibliophiles. This is the story in which Gamadge meets his wife. Daly’s niece Eleanor Boylan wrote five mysteries featuring Henry’s widow Clara from 1989 to 1996. They don’t quite capture the feeling that these books have but they are also quite readable.

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