Friday, 3 June 2016

Forgotten Book - Death Stalks a Lady

Shelley Smith followed up her debut, the enjoyable Background for Murder , with a novel first published in 1945, Death Stalks a Lady. Here she moves away from the private eye story to a "woman in jeopardy" mystery very much in the style of Ethel Lina White, who had died not long before the book appeared. And Smith shows that she is equally adept at this kind of story.

Judith Allen returns to her family home after ten years away, an absence consequent upon her parents's divorce, and immediately stumbles across the body of a woman in a car. The deceased bears a superficial resemblance to her, and was going under the name of....Judith Allen. This is a fascinating plot device,and although the plotting of the mystery is a little uneven, overall this is a crafty whodunit which - even at this early point of Smith's career- demonstrates her skill as a writer.

The plot quickly thickens. Judith falls in love, but we learn that she's an heiress, and people have reason to wish her ill. Can she even trust the handsome chap she's fallen for? Another death occurs, and the pace never lets up. It's all perfectly enjoyable, and I galloped through the story. In the Fifties, Smith would write even more accomplished crime fiction, but her early books are also entertaining.

My copy is inscribed by Smith to a reader, and accompanied by a postcard in which she says that her radio play about the "wicked bank manager",called No Wreath for Susan, is due to be broadcast shortly on the Home Service. I imagine that no copies exist of that play - though I haven't yet checked - but I must say I'm intrigued. Smith was an energetic and capable writer, and the only surprise to me is that her enthusiasm for writing novels seemed to fade after the early 60s.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I remember liking AN AFTERNOON TO KILL a lot but have not read anything else by her - thanks Martin, but see if I can track down more of her stuff

Unknown said...

Sounds like a read worth looking into. Not sure if i will find it here in the states, but will try.

Rick Robinson said...

This being an heiress is dangerous stuff, isn't it? This sounds interesting.

By the way, just finished reading NORTHERN BLOOD, the first CWA North anthology you edited. Very nice.

Martin Edwards said...

Sergio, An Afternoon to Kill is her masterpiece, but many of the others are really very good indeed. She could write. Track them down, and you are unlikely to be disappointed.

Martin Edwards said...

Bill, this is quite an obscure title, but like all Smith's books, it's worth looking out for.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks. Richard. I rememmber the first Northern Blood project with immense affection. It was my first go at compiling an anthology and it was a terrific experience. Since then, of course, I've really been bitten by the antho compiling bug!