Friday’s Forgotten Book: Lullaby of Murder by Dorothy Salisbury Davis

Dorothy Salisbury Davis (1916-2014) was known for her deeply human characters and the sensitivity and compassion with which she portrayed them in her suspense fiction. She was nominated for an Edgar Award six times, served as President of the Mystery Writers of America in 1956, and was named a Grand Master by the MWA in 1985. She was on the initial steering committee of Sisters in Crime when it was formed in 1986 to promote women crime fiction writers.

She wrote two series, one with Mrs. Norris, a Scots housekeeper in New York, and one with former actress Julie Hayes. Lieutenant Marks, a detective in the New York City police force, had two books to himself and he appeared in the Julie Hayes books. Her other 13 full-length novels are stand-alone mysteries. She also wrote dozens of short stories.

Sarah Weinman profiled Ms. Davis for Mystery Scene in 2014. See her article here: https://mysteryscenemag.com/blog-article/4589-dorothy-salisbury-davis. See the obituary that the New York Times ran here: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/arts/dorothy-salisbury-davis-suspense-novelist-dies-at-98.html.

Lullaby of Murder (Scribner, 1984) is the third Julie Hayes mystery. Julie has worked for Tony Alexander for a year and is celebrating the anniversary at Sardi’s. Alexander writes a popular gossip column in the New York Daily. Tony is notoriously difficult to get along with, so the fact of the anniversary is indeed something to celebrate. Her journalist husband Jeff is leaving for Paris that night to research neo-Fascism, so the celebration is additionally something of a farewell meal.

A day later Tony rejects her latest column in the most scathing and humiliating of terms. That night she returns to the office to do some work, but sees Tony’s name on the after-hours sign-in log at the security desk. She leaves rather than face him again so soon. Unfortunately, she was seen by other late workers and becomes a person of interest when Tony’s body is discovered in his office early the next day. Julie feels the urgent need to identify the real killer to remove herself from police attention, so she begins questioning Tony’s wife and daughter and others who knew him in the past.

This mystery seems to be simpler and more straightforward in the beginning than it turns out to be. It skews dark by the end. Davis was known for her capable female characters and Julie Hayes is no exception. There is definitely something about a woman who, upon being advised to get a job, rents an office and sets up as a tarot card reader. The background, as the title suggests, is about actors, the support actors and the people on the fringes of the acting world and the ways they struggle to maintain a place in that world. An intriguing read but perhaps a little more complicated than it needed to be.