Thursday 9 February 2012

Stuart Palmer - The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933)

"Perhaps that poor fellow over there looks like just another case of heart failure to you, but I'm getting so I can detect the very smell of murder."

At the end of a short seaplane trip to Catalina Island, a passenger whom everyone suspected of simply being airsick is discovered dead in his seat. The chief of police would like to close the case as soon as possible but unfortunately for him Miss Hildegarde Withers is vacationing on the island and she suspects something much more devious than a simple case of heart failure. Especially when she discovers that the dead man was an unwilling witness in a corruption trial with a 15,000 bounty on his head. But which passenger was looking to make some extra cash...the movie director, the ambitious blonde, the simpering newlyweds, the pottery salesman, the Norwegian ship captain or perhaps even one of the pilots? And no murder investigation is helped by the disappearance of the corpse.

The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree is one of the better entries in the humorous Hildegarde Withers series. While her usual sidekick, New York City police detective Oscar Piper, is absent for much of the book, Hildegarde teams up Phyllis La Fond, the ambitious blonde, and they make an amusing detective pair. Hildegarde is aided by one wildly propitious clue and the death of the passenger is revealed to rely on a dexterousness which seems improbable, but on the whole, if you're a fan of the series, you'll enjoy this one too.

The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree is readily available from the Rue Morgue Press and was filmed in 1935 under the title Murder on a Honeymoon.