THE SLAYING OF JOSEPH BOWNE ELWELL by Jonathan Goodman

THE SLAYING OF JOSEPH BOWNE ELWELL

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A real-life whodunit harkening back almost seven decades to the famed, unsolved murder of dandy Elwell in his Manhattan pad in 1920. Goodman, who has made a career out of similar cases (The Killing of Julia Wallace, 1976; Who He? Goodman's Dictionary of the Unknown Famous, 1984), even attempts an Ellery Queen-style finish, claiming to solve the 68-year-old mystery. Elwell was a high-society character whose true calling in life was high-stakes gambling, particularly in the game of bridge (he wrote several of the period's most well-respected bridge manuals). He was also one of the era's prolific playboys, a sideline that garnered him a fair share of potential enemies among cuckolded husbands. At Elwell's residence on West 70th Street, such luminaries of the day as William Barnes, Harold Vanderbilt, and banker Walter Lewisohn were among the feted. But when, on the morning of June 11, 1920, Elwell's housekeeper reported for duty, she discovered the sad result of her employer's extravagant life--Elwell sitting upright in his chair, a bullet hole in his forehead. The case became the murder case of the decade--but despite mounds of publicity, no one was ever brought to trial. Goodman, inspite of his claim to have solved the crime at long last, fails to satisfy. The best he can conjure is: ""Joseph Bowne Elwell was slain by, or in obedience to the order of, Walter Lewisohn. That is my firm belief."" Goodman's explanation, however, is full of conjecture and innuendo against long-since deceased participants. It hinges on the assumption that Lewisohn became crazed with the notion that Elwell was enticing the lovely Leonara Hughes away from him. Lewisohn was, indeed, committed to an asylum two years later. Goodman's conclusion can only remain a supposition in a case that is still important largely as the seedbed for the detective novels of both S.S. Van Dine and Ellery Queen, who realized that the popular taste for such urban mysteries could be tapped in fiction. Still, this is a sure-fire hit for inveterate sleuthaholics.

Pub Date: March 22nd, 1988
Publisher: St. Martin's