Friday, September 13, 2019

62. The Girl from Nowhere by Rae Foley

I cannot remember where I got this book, I think I chose it because the cover looked cool.  It's quite old, written in 1949 and this second printing from September of 1950, so I treated it very gently.  It survived my reading it with the pages holding together.  I usually try to vary my reading.  In this case, The Girl from Nowhere is very much in the tradition of Laura (which I had just read).  It takes place in Manhattan, the characters are of the upper classes and a big theme (and the girl in question) is about people from the lower classes trying to make it big. Also, one of the main characters is a female executive, co-owner of a publicity company and her professional skills clash with the social expectations of her as a woman.

It is more of a traditional whodunit mystery.  There is no main character, as we have a semi-omniscient narrator who jumps from character to character.  Most of the time, at least at the beginning, we spend with aforementioned executive, Beatrice Comstock.  She runs her publicity company with her ex-husband, who has now taken up with a super sexy, young "girl from nowhere" Tony (short for Antonia).  Tony, we learn quickly, is pretty rotten and up to all kinds of shenanigans. In many ways, she is the most interesting character, but she dies quickly, murdered in her bathtub when somebody drops the radio in it.  There are a long list of suspects: Beatrice, Carey (Tony's husband and Beatrice's ex), Carey's sister, their clients whom we learn were being blackmailed by Tony. 

Onto the scene comes John Harland, expert in "humanics" basically super smart successful guy with a penetrating gaze, who has a reputation for solving crimes.  He only solves them because they help with his research into humanics, which is the study of the whole man.  He feels that if he can get to the bottom of it and truly create a discipline of humanics, he can prevent people from doing crimes before they happen.  He is actually kind of cool, living in a sick house downtown with a garden behind a wall and a maid who makes the best lunches (the house was given to him for a past crime he solved or something).

The process is kind of fun, but a bit flawed.  You are never sure who is the main character because the viewpoint keeps jumping.  It was fun to slowly figure out the back story and the reason why Carey married horrible Tony (other than that she is super alluring) is nicely investigated and revealed.  Unfortunately, the actual mystery of the murder is very unsatisfying and could only be made into a mystery because the author doesn't give you the full perspective.  He cheats, basically, making you think you are really seeing it from Beatrice's perspective, while actually holding back on her actions that she actually did in the scene that you are experiencing from her eyes.  That's a basic mechanical failure in a whodunnit.  A nice little find, but undermined at the end.

After a bit of research, it appears that Rae Foley is the nom de plume of Elinore Denniston.  I thought it was a woman who wrote this as I was reading it.  John Harland may be a recurring detective character.  I would be curious to see if there are some better mysteries he solves, because he was sort of cool.

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