Lucille Fletcher's The Strange Blue Yawl, first published in 1964, is an instructive example of the novel of domestic suspense, and of the author's clever use of writing technique as a means of ratcheting up tension. It's not by any means my favourite of her books, but for any would-be writer wanting to study the craft, it would be well worth reading. The author set herself a very difficult challenge here, and I enjoyed seeing the way in which she tried to rise to it.
The story is a first person narrative. The decision to tell the tale in this way was unusual for Fletcher, but necessary to make the required impact, for a couple of reasons. Our narrator is John Waldo Leeds the Second, a 38 year old musician devoted to composition. He lives in a remote cottage near the mouth of the Chesapeake with his gorgeous young wife Mary, a former TV weather girl.
One night, Mary wakes him. She's heard a woman screaming from a boat in the bay. Groggily, Jack Leeds gets up and looks out. Mary has seen a blue yawl in the water, and is convinced that murder has been done. The couple aren't able to do anything else that night, but then Mary (rather belatedly, I thought) says she'll ring the Coast Guard. In the morning they are duly visited by a Lieutenant Reynolds, who proves to be far from helpful.
Mary convinces her husband that they are in danger and that the killers will seek them out unless they are apprehended first. She sets about some extensive amateur sleuthing and reports back on progress - but it appears that there are several suspicious yawls in the area, and even more dubious characters. The tension builds up to a dramatic climax and a rather extraordinary murder.
It's all very ingenious. However, I have to say that although Fletcher came up with a clever plot, she tested my ability to suspend disbelief to breaking point. I found the Leeds' behaviour odd and unconvincing, and the reports of the various suspects didn't hold my interest as it should have done. I wasn't convinced about the psychology of the characters, and in a novel of psychological suspense, that's quite a drawback. Even so, Fletcher was a dab hand at keeping you guessing, and for that reason, this story is worth reading.