A movie star–turned-designer gets swept into a murderous hunt for a precious gem in this reissued 1940s thriller.
Griselda Satterlee (not, thank God, her screen name) has decided to give up the screen for the comparatively quieter life of fashion design. During a trip to New York, which will reunite her with her two sisters and find her staying in her ex-husband's digs near Madison Avenue, Griselda returns home one night only to be accosted by the Montefierrow twins, denizens of the society page, back in town after a dozen years on the Continent, and as thoroughly, chillingly, cold-bloodedly homicidal a pair as has appeared in any thriller. The twins insist that Griselda's ex is in possession of a rare and ancient gem, which they call the blue marble, and insist she knows where it is. Her own insistence that she has no idea spurs the twins to a series of vicious murders, made even more horrible by the alternately gleeful and bored participation of Griselda's conscienceless, psychopathic younger sister. Some of the murders are committed to extract information and some just to tidy up loose ends. But as with everything else in the rather intricate plot, the particulars drop away and the motive, far more than obtaining the marble, becomes the desire for mayhem and casual sadism, all of it executed as casually as ordering another round. Nearly 80 years after its initial publication, there is still nothing like Hughes' (The Expendable Man, 1963, etc.) debut novel. The 1940s New York setting, the characters who drink like fish and dress for dinner and take cabs to go a block—because, really, who walks?—give the book the sophisticated luster of romantic comedy. But it's as if a Lubitsch movie kept being periodically taken over by David Lynch. It remains funny only now we're being asked to laugh at murder and threats and oddball sociopaths. And so the book becomes genuinely nightmarish, at times close to suffocating.
The debut by one of the great American suspense writers will suck you in even as it makes you keep asking, "Did I just read that?"