Adam, tyrannical mayor of Oakman County, Nevada, has just learned that his ex-wife had a daughter after their divorce and has kept it hidden from him. He invites Betty-Jean to his camp on Memaloose Lake along with several other guests, notably his adopted son Kent, who he obviously intends to marry this Betty-Jean to consolidate his multi-million-dollar fortune. Unfortunately, also among the guests are Rosemary and her crippled brother Twill, respectively engaged to Kent and Betty-Jean. Old Judge Shivley, who raised Betty-Jean, is also at the camp with his son, Clyde, who is probably involved in a Hollywood scandal magazine and might dabble in a bit of blackmailing.
It’s blisteringly hot and most spirits are already pushed to the breaking point when a thunderstorm bursts. Almost everyone was in the club house playing bridge — including Betty-Jean, who completely forgot about the complicate dessert she was going to make for dinner — when Rosemary hysterically cries that she’s killed her brother. A search is made, evidence of a shooting is found, but Twill’s body isn’t. At the Shivley cabin, though, Clyde is found shot to death and his father is missing, leaving behind all his clothes.
There are a lot of murder mysteries were you’re faced with the simple problem that dead bodies can’t just up and walk away. They were either hidden by somebody else, weren’t actually killed, or where never even there. There’s a good bit of all three going on here.
Mr. Shaitana, an eccentric who likes to model himself after Mephistopheles, invites Hercule Poirot to a bridge party. He’s a collector of many things and wants to show Poirot his rarest collection of all: his murderers. The four other guests, he says, have all killed in the past and gotten away with it.
But Shaitana, it turns out, wasn’t really an immortal evil — he’s proved quite mortal indeed when, at the party’s close, he’s found stabbed to death with a stiletto dagger. No one else entered the room and nobody left. One of the guests must have done it, but a motive is lacking, they’re largely unacquainted with each other, and none of them had more than the slightest familiarity with Shaitana. Is it the manly Major Despard, the timid Miss Meredith, the jovial Dr. Roberts, or the bridge champion Mrs. Lorrimer?
Good ending, very Clue-ish to give it away a bit, but for the one who actually did in Shaitana, the set up and reveal there was very well done.
Inscription: on the front fly leaf, Margaret E. Breckens, Dec. 10, 1944
This is, I think, the fourth book in the Captain Blood series, but as its the only one I’ve read, I can’t comment on whatever continuing story there might be. I doubt there is one, as there’s really no overarching plot within this volume — each chapter is a more or less independent short story. Peter Blood, once an Irish surgeon, is a wanted man back in Europe for rendering aid to an injured enemy soldier and so is forced into piracy in the Caribbean. He remains, however, a virtuous sort of buccaneer, stealing only from those who deserve to be stolen from. Those people, generally but not exclusively, are the Spanish. Blood’s battles are sometimes won by violence and at other times by cunning. My favorite chapter, called “Sacrilege”, is an example of the later. An English slave trader is robbed by the Spanish commander of Havana. Blood disguises his compatriot as the Cardinal-Archbishop of New Spain and demands ransom from Havana for his release. The ransom, of course, is more than enough to repay the Englishman and make it worth Blood’s while.
After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan is sent north to live with her aunt. It’s been many years since she’s seen Aunt Patience and Mary now finds her to be the wife of the landlord of Jamaica Inn. The place is notorious throughout Cornwall as being the seat of a wrecker gang — men who lure ships into the rocks, kill the crew, and steal their cargo. Patience is a broken woman with dog-like devotion to her husband Joss, despite his cruelty.
Mary confides in Joss’s estranged brother Jem and Francis Davey, vicar of nearby Altarnun. Jem is an unrepentant horse thief, but he prides himself that at least he’s no murderer. Davey is an albino, but his physical appearance isn’t the only thing strange about him. His cold and almost derisive demeanor is not in keeping with his profession.
The story comes to a head on Christmas Eve when Joss’s drunken carelessness catches up with him and his gang wrecks a ship too close to daybreak and has to scatter in chaos before being discovered. Joss plans to flee the country. Mary escapes the house and goes to Davey, but finding him not at home, continues to the squire to raise the alarm. When they arrive at Jamaica Inn, they find that Joss and Patience are both dead — stabbed in the back. It would seem that Joss was not the ringleader of the gang and that the actual boss had cut his loses.
But who is the boss? Mary, who’s been taken to the vicarage, isn’t long in suspense. Davey would seem not to be a very good Christian. In fact, he holds more faith in the old gods of the Druids. He abducts Mary and intends on taking her to Africa, but Jem has figured him out and leads a manhunt that ends in Davey’s death and Mary’s rescue.
Mary at first intends on going south to her home town, where she’s sure to find welcome by many friends, but at last throws caution to the wind and follows Jem wherever his lawless wanderings may take him.