Friday’s Forgotten Book: Death for Dear Clara by Q. Patrick

Q. Patrick was the pseudonym of Hugh Callingham Wheeler (1912-1987) and Richard Wilson Webb (1901-1966), who also published under the names Patrick Quentin and Jonathan Stagge. Webb wrote with Martha Mott Kelly under the name Q. Patrick for a few years before Webb teamed up with Wheeler. Webb also worked with Mary Louise White Aswell on a couple of early novels. Wheeler and Webb are the authors of Death for Dear Clara (Simon and Schuster, 1937), which is the first appearance of Timothy Trant, a police lieutenant in New York City.

Clara Van Heuten was much admired for her initiative in setting herself up in business after she was widowed. She ran what she called a literary advice bureau, not an agent as such, but an editorial service that read manuscripts of all kinds and recommended improvements. From the lush furnishings in her office and her Park Avenue apartment, apparently it was quite successful.

On the afternoon that she died, a number of clients visited her in rapid succession. When her secretary entered her office with letters to be signed at the end of the day, she found Clara slumped across her desk with a knife in her back. After the police were called in, Detective Timothy Trant was assigned to the case, considering the victim’s place in society. A Princeton graduate, he was believed to have an understanding of the upper social circles that escaped lesser police officers and was deployed as a sort of supplemental secret weapon. His choice of clothing was unorthodox for a policeman. When he first comes in to the action, he is wearing a gray suit with a maroon shirt and a black tie. He tells someone he wears all colors except violet and pastels. (I don’t know what he has against pastels.)

Despite his sartorial peculiarities Trant is quite workmanlike in his investigation and the story that follows is classic Golden Age in style, down to the big reveal at the end in front of all of the suspects. A compelling case could be made against several of them, as Clara was not as nice as everyone thought she was.

The writing is gently sardonic throughout; one character’s wild youth is described as being “the New York débutante to end all débutantes. Her wild escapades had run neck and neck on the front pages with the downward careening of stock prices….But flaming youth had palled. … Patricia had abandoned her capitalistic pranks to become the democrat to end all democrats. She had deflected her money and her boundless energy into soup for soup kitchens and butter for breadlines. She had become at once the champion and the terror of Manhattan’s unemployed.”

Solid plot, smoothly paced story, proficient writing. A good read!