Diana Prescott, leaves her comfortable home and millionaire father, as she wants to become an actress while all he wants is for her to settle into quite domesticity. Coming to New York, she rents a room at Mrs. Lulu Markham’s boarding house and becomes friends with Barbara, Mrs. Markham’s daughter and an aspiring actress too. The girls often practice together. Also staying in the boarding house are a host of eccentric characters: Two elderly spinsters Imogene and Opal Rostrum who remind Barbara of two dusty umbrellas and who rue the fact that their father never allowed them to wear make-up as then they wouldn’t have ended up like this; Camille, a former actress in her sixties who “made no bones about admitting that she was nearly forty”; Mary and Grace, two school-teachers in their thirties who feel that their chances are growing dim. Among the men, there is Neville Ward who works in a bank and is about “as exciting as a boiled egg” and Barbara’s uncle Alvin Mott who surprises Diana one day by flying into a rage because she thought that he was only about “eating and sleeping, dressing and undressing because his parents had called him into being.” Besides these there are the two maids: Elsie and Kate, always complaining about how much work they have to do. And then there is Miss Giddens who left this reader quite giddy.
Things heat up when a new boarder joins them. Dennis Livingstone is an employee of Diana’s father and Diana feels sure that her father has asked this stooge of his to seduce her back to her home. As Dennis and Diana lock horns, strange things begin to happen in the boarding house: people behave as though they are seeing ghosts; flower bulbs are pulled out; pits dug up for people to fall into; strange disappearances and sinister murders. Incompetent police officers get in everybody’s way; Diana’s father comes charging in:
She appeared behind us at that moment and said, “Gentleman to see you, miss.”
I raised my head and stared at the heavy-set man who loomed behind her. “That’s not a gentleman, Evie,” I said. “That’s Papa.”
And everybody plays bridge.
The novel sparkles initially but midway thru the book, the protagonist Diana started getting on my nerves and the novel thus lost the charm that The Black Lady could maintain right till the end. Still it is an interesting mystery which I quite enjoyed.
Have you read it? What did you think?
First Line: Outside it had begun to snow, and the early November dusk was already closing in.
Publication Details: London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1942
First published: 1941