The Green Jacket by Jennette Lee (1917)

The desire to be personally invisible is not a popular one. I have not conducted studies but it seems people try to reach the limelight more than they try to flee it. One wonders if invisible people, not people who are visually invisible but those that blend in and are overlooked, purposely shun attention or if they take no energy towards reaching the spotlight.

In The Green Jacket, Jennette Lee introduces us to a genre busting detective. Strong, smart, forgiving, and quiet Millicent “Millie” Newberry attacks her work like a combination of two great fictional detectives Ms. Marple and Father Brown. The younger than middle aged, slightly plump Mrs. Newberry, frequently dressed in grey and green, has the power to melt into the background like a younger Ms. Marple. While Ms. Marple is overlooked because of her age, bearing, and gender Millie is overlooked because of a cultivated attitude of indifference and a false appearance of inattention. This new female detective takes leniency to the level of Father Brown proclaiming that she does not trust the modern jail system. Instead, she finds the criminal, if one exists, and decides if jail is the best option. Most murderers are flung behind bars; sympathy is found for petty thieves, embezzlers, thugs and other small time criminals. Her office has grown very large with many well dressed women and men busy at typewriters, desks, and office chairs. Millie’s old boss, Tom Corbett, introduces her to an cold case he could never solve. An emerald necklace stolen without a trace. Unlike some crime fiction where the lines of good and evil are defined cleanly Millie must decipher a crumpled mess of lies, distrust, and misunderstand. She moves with class, dignity and sympathy in pursuit of that shining green necklace. This book is like a winter blanket and a cup of hot chocolate for the detective novel aficionado. Stand up and try on The Green Jacket.


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The Shadow of the Rope by E.W. Hornung (1906)

“I’ll have what he’s having,” shouts a boisterous, heavyset man with a jolly face wearing an old fashioned three piece at the Mystery Authors Club. The declaration brings the eyes of the room towards a small table with short bespectacled man hunched alone over a small table alternatively wolfing down food and scribbling furiously on a yellow legal pad. Three empty dishes lie on the other side of the table surrounded by five yellow crumpled pieces of paper. Unfazed or unaware of the attention the author continues his crude dinner writing ritual. End scene. I’m one of those people who always assumes everyone in a niche field knows everyone else. In the case of mystery authors I imagine a sort of old fashioned English club that every great mystery author frequents regularly. The man at the table in this case is E.W. Hornung rushing towards the deadline of his new mystery novel.

Rachel Minchin was born to a poor family in Australia and she worked humble jobs later gaining berth to England as a Lady’s companion. On the voyage, she and Mr. Minchin, a forty year old mining expert, fall in love and quickly get married. The new marriage bliss doesn’t last as Rachel realizes that her husband is a much different in London than on a boat. Mr. Minchin is murdered the night before Rachel planned upon leaving him. The police and the public convict Rachel immediately in the court of public opinion. After a weeklong trial, Rachel is declared not guilty to the disgust of the attentive public. Alone at night without means or wiles to procure bread and bed Rachel is helped by a stranger who’d watched the trial. The next day, the rich stranger J.B. Steele proposes a marriage of convenience where neither must discuss their past. In desperation to shed public scrutiny and the Minchin name Rachel accepts and moves to Steele’s English country house. The stereotype of the English country village with its gossiping locals and scrutiny of outsiders make the pairs secrets ever more fragile. Rachel is a sympathetic bewildered character and J.B. Steele is a gruff man full of mystery. The question of who really murdered her late husband permeates the tale. Not sliding cleanly into popular whodunnit or detective novel cliches E.W. Hornung creates a compelling mystery full of brutal dead ends, shocking revelations and believable cast of characters. Sit in the dark and read The Shadow of the Rope.


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