A pair of Long Island society types stand trial for upper-crust murder in this distinguished reprint first published in 1927.
Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose introduction pronounces this one of the very first legal thrillers, notes that Hart (1890-1943) drew freely on accounts of the 1922 Hall-Mills murder, the most notorious of her day. But the trial of Stephen Bellamy and Susan Ives for the fatal stabbing of Bellamy’s wife would have been sensational on its own. Mimi Dawson had been romantically involved with both self-made stockbroker Patrick Ives and equally eligible Elliot Farwell, and Pat had eloped with Sue Thorne, Elliot’s former girlfriend whose wealthy father disinherited her in disgust, only a few days before Mimi married Stephen. The combustible mixture of once and future lovers, linking Pat and Mimi once more despite their marriages to others, boils over when Mimi is found stabbed to death in the gardener’s cottage on the grounds of Orchards, the old Thorne estate. The evidence, which places both the accused at the scene around the time of the murder, suggests that Sue Ives stabbed her rival to death with the active encouragement of the victim’s husband. But the eight days of the trial bring out an abundance of new evidence, partly at the hands of wily prosecutor Daniel Farr, partly through the dogged research and cross-examination of defense counsel Dudley Lambert, an old family friend of the Thornes who at first seems utterly overmatched. The pace is stately, the oratory ceremonious, and the climax unnecessarily self-serious. But if the tale is unmemorable as a whodunit, it has never been excelled by its long line of progeny as a courtroom drama. Hardly a single witness testifies without some surprising development, and the mystery is admirably calculated to provide successively more revealing peeks at the passions that seethe beneath its decorous surface.
A must-read for nostalgia buffs, this seminal tale of legal intrigue holds up remarkably well even for casual fans.