The #1936 Club: Death in the Back Seat by Dorothy Cameron Disney

Tired of living life in the fast lane, writer Lola and her artist-husband Jack Storm, decide to shift to the countryside in order to concentrate on their art. The beginning seems promising when they rent a beautiful cottage in rural Connecticut. However even as their work seems to be progressing , they slowly find that living in a small town is not all roses. The comforts one takes for granted in big cities – uninterrupted power supply, electrical heating, 24 hour access to shops, eateries, and services et al are lacking in small cities. Further, they also encounter small town prejudice against outsiders especially against the people who cannot boast of a famous lineage.

Their landlady, Luella Coatesnash, who is the uncrowned queen of the town, her family being there for generations altogether is cold and aloof though her companion Laura Twinning makes it a point to drop in their house daily and bore them with her talk. Further though Mrs. C is rolling in money, she expects her tenants to run errands for her, do shopping on her behalf, and basically be at her beck-and-call.

When Mrs. Coatesnash and Laura Twinning leave for their annual visit to Paris, Lola and Jack heave a sigh of relief. However, the relief soon disappears when Lola receives a call from NY from an acquaintance of Mrs. Coatesnash who wants Jack to pick him up from the station. The Storms do so and loathe the man – Evan Lewis – who makes himself disagreeable from the first moment. It cannot be too soon for the Storms for their unwanted passenger to get down from their car but when it is time for him to alight, they find him dead in the back seat. Stung into action by the local animosity and suspicions of the police, the Storms turn amateur detectives and lurch from one peril to another.

This book, the debut of American author, Dorothy Cameron Disney, was also my first acquaintance with the writer. Narrated by Lola Strom after the events are over, it follows what is known as the “Had-I-but-known” tradition, so popularized by Mary Roberts Rinehart. The mystery when it is revealed is pretty straight-forward but the plot is convoluted with corpses appearing at regular intervals and the atmosphere one of foreboding and menace. Despite the small cast, the culprit is well hidden. I also loved the bond between the couple and the tartar remarks that Lola sometimes let slip about married life and spouses. So all in all a good intro to the author and I’ d like to read more of her.

I also learnt the quaint tradition of community telephoning. Many phones on the same line and the number of rings indicating whether the call was meant for you or for your neighbours.

Have you read the book? How do you feel about it?

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First Line: Jack and I returned to New York a month ago.

First Published: 1936

Other Opinions: Beneath the Stains of Time

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This is my first review for the #1936 Club being hosted this week by Simon @ Stuck in a Book and Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. If you want to participate all you have to do is read and review a book written in 1936.

17 thoughts on “The #1936 Club: Death in the Back Seat by Dorothy Cameron Disney

  1. Ah, yes, the “Had I but known’ theme. That can work very well when it’s done effectively, Neeru, and I’m glad you thought it worked here. Interesting sub-plot of ‘city to country,’ too.

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  2. This sounds great. I picked up a copy of Disney’s “Too Innocent To Kill” (Method in Madness) but have yet to read her. I’m old enough to remember ‘party lines’ where the community shared the phone line. My grandmother had one and as others left for ‘private’ numbers over the years, she was the last one standing. A party of one. Thanks for the review

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    1. So the Party number effectively became a private number! Thanks for sharing this info. I hope you read the Disney book soon. I am also keen to read more of her.

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    1. Thanks for hosting the reading event, Simon. 1936 is such a rich year and I am happy to be reading books that have been on my TBR for years. I rather like the Wildside Press cover. The other two are boring.

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  3. I have some Dorothy Cameron Disney mysteries on my shelves but have yet to read one. I’ll move one to my REAL REAL SOON stack today. You might be interested in my post (http:\\georgekelley.org) today of UNUSUAL SUSPECTS which explores authors I’m sure you’ve read…or would like to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh I wish you’d get round to reading her. Am keen to read more of her and would like to read your reviews. Unusual Suspects looks interesting. I’ll have a look.

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  4. Sounds like I am not the only one familiar with party lines, from personal experience. Although I don’t remember reading about them in older mystery fiction before.

    This sounds good. I have not read anything by this author, I should do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This was the first time I too read her, Tracy, though I was familiar with her name. I think there is another author too who has a similar sounding name. Party Lines seem to have been pretty common in Canada/ USA. Haven’t heard of such a service in India.

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