Like the other adventures of New York City Police Commissioner Thatcher Colt, this third in the series has gone unreprinted for more than half a century. For enthusiasts of the traditional clue-laden crime puzzle, that’s too bad, since Abbot writes with real verve and plots with a rare ingenuity. Here, the eponymous murder victim is Lola Carewe, actress and denizen of Café Society. She dies in her penthouse apartment early on New Year’s Day—of indeterminate means, in what appear to be impossible circumstances, and under the watch of Colt and several others. A second murder comes to light almost immediately; a third occurs a short while later. Clues are absurdly abundant: a pair of callously slain house pets, a note to Lola that warns of her impending death, a leather strap of unknown purpose, a priceless ruby of unknown origin, a small wooden box that someone has flung out of a 24th-story window, a robe that someone has buttoned on the wrong side. Suspects include a supercilious actor who claims to have been driving alone on a Long Island parkway at 3 A.M., a reputable East Side physician who has been seen transacting some shady business on a West Side street corner, and a Chinese butler who finds amusement in a biography of Clara Bow. In the giddy tumult of Jazz Age Manhattan, anything goes and no one is what he or she seems.
Abbot manages all of these elements with a deft hand, faltering only at the end, when he rushes Colt’s explanation of the crimes and leaves several clues not fully accounted for. Meanwhile, what lingers in memory after all sense of the plot has quickly evaporated is a narrative style that is strongly redolent of its period. Like an Art Deco skyscraper, it is bold and streamlined in its overall thrust, yet full of ornate detailing at its corners and cornices.
[ADDENDUM: “Anthony Abbot” was the pseudonym of Fulton Oursler, a once-prominent journalist and editor, best known in his day for writing The Greatest Story Ever Told (1949), a novelized life of Christ that later became the basis of a classic film epic. As noted, his early work of a more profane sort is now all but forgotten: To find an image for this post, I had to scrounge the Web for a poster used to advertise a slightly less neglected movie version of the book—the concisely titled Night Club Lady (1932).]