Simon & Schuster, 1951
A short, and relatively late, novel by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and one which plays to her strengths without showcasing any of them in their best light, except perhaps her casual wit and the smoothly readable pacing she brought to most of her work I've read (a fraction of her work in the crime-fiction field). A 1951 "Inner Sanctum" mystery, it mixes elements of the psychological suspense story she and Cornell Woolrich and Robert Bloch and Daphne Du Maurier and others were developing in the 1940s with some of the conventions of the drawing room mystery and even a touch of the police procedural, while mostly being from the perspective of a freelance writer, James Brophy, who has let his life get beyond his control. At least, he's been drifting along enough so that his social-butterfly wife and her sister, an increasingly shrill and dependent presence in the household, go through gyrations that lead to several murders...while he attempts to get some work done on one or another short story or serialized novel or novella (particularly one in progress called "The Party Was the Payoff"), with hopes of placing This one in a slick magazine rather than a pulp. Another woman catches his resigned eye, and she plays a significant role as well, at one point trying to fix him up with a job with an early 1950s version of Open University, an offer he dodges with a shudder and several quietly offputting suggestions to the Ms. Vanderbilt (but not of Those Vanderbilts) who runs the multi-disciplinary arts "school" for adults.
At 123 pages in the Mercury edition, with a decent but unexceptional George Salter cover painting, it's just a bit rushed, particularly around Brophy's realization of his own role in events, and the prime mover of most of the chaos is rather easy to spot, but it's in turns a funny and grim, and very quick, read. If you pick up one of the out of print editions or the current Stark House two-fer, you probably won't wish you were reading something else (though I wouldn't judge Holding's work as a whole by this one). ESH's influence on writers following her, from Patricia Highsmith to (her recent champion) Ed Gorman and beyond, was great...
The Mercury Mystery edition (a Dannay title change? Or ESH's title restored?), Mercury Press 1952, and as a Mercury Mystery, in undated digest-sized magazine format (at the end of its run, after Mercury Press sold EQMM to the new Davis Publications, Mercury would become a full-fledged fiction magazine, with each issue featuring a novel and short essays and fiction).
for more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.
Stark House's currently in-print omnibus, somewhat misleadingly suggesting "Never before in paperback" (possibly true of the first novel of two):