The Return of the Mistress of Mystery and Introducing Two Contemporary Debuts – Twin Cities

Today we explore both ends of the literary spectrum, from a re-edited mystery to two contemporary debuts.

“Laughing Fingers” by Mabel Seeley (Berkley Prime Crime, $16)

Lake Superior has always inspired writers due to the deep waters of the great lake, surrounding dark forests, and gloomy weather. Like Minnesota author Wendy Webb, Mabel Seeley uses the lake’s eerie atmosphere to produce crackling mysteries.

Seeley, who grew up in St. Paul and wrote seven mysteries and two novels between 1938 and 1954, was known during her lifetime as the mistress of mystery. Seeley died in 1991, and Berkley brings her work back to life with reprints of her mysteries. “The Chuckling Fingers”, published in 1941, is considered his finest by many familiar with his work. The reprints were launched last year with “The Listening House”.

“The Chuckling Fingers” begins when Ann Gay is summoned to Fiddler’s Fingers, a secluded pine estate on Lake Superior. She immediately realizes that something is wrong with her newly married cousin, Jacqueline. Strange things are happening around the big house; clothes are shredded, a hidden thread is stretched across a path, and a bed bursts into flames.

When a member of the family is murdered, everything indicates that Jacqueline is the murderess. But why would she sabotage her own home? And who in his big family would want him dead?

Seeley was known for writing protagonists who are smart, strong-willed working women and who portray Ann, a stenographer in an insurance office who is Jacqueline’s staunchest ally.

The interesting title of the novel comes from the huge stones in the shape of fingers on the shore of the lake, under which a small river flows, making a noise as if someone is laughing. Scary and atmospheric.

“Hello, transcriber” by Hanna Morrissey (Minotaur Books, $27.99)

hello transcriber book coverIs it a detective novel? The suspense? Police procedure? Romance? Wisconsin resident Morrissey’s early life is all that, leaning toward romance.

Hazel Greenlee is an aspiring writer but not very lucky. When she and her water conservationist husband move to Black Harbor, Wis., where “nothing good is happening anywhere…”, she is hired as a transcriptionist for the police department, typing up reports officers and detectives she comes from. learn by listening to them, typing 110 words per minute. (The author had such a job.)

Hazel, an introvert who seems depressed, works in a dark room in which the windows allow her to look outside but no one can see inside. One night, she is horrified to see a man at the window, writing in frost with the finger of a dead man. that he had hidden a body. Hazel knows this man. It’s his neighbor.

The body is that of a young boy who was dumped on garbage. Is he a victim of Candy Man, suspected of giving drugs to children?

Hazel soon meets Detective Nik Kole, the epitome of a romantic bad boy. Kole, who has just returned from a suspension, is magnificent. And although Hazel cannot have sex with her husband without pain, she has no such problems with Kole when they have a torrid affair. Hazel commits adultery, which puts off some readers, but it’s justified by the indifferent behavior (in her mind) of her gun-loving husband who “filled the house with dead things” he ripped from the house. water or slaughtered.

“Hello, Transcriber” was one of last fall’s best-loved debuts (sorry, just read it), and there’s a lot to like about Morrissey’s writing, including descriptions of the cold winter darkness in Hazel’s workspace and in the city.

Midwesterners will laugh at how Hazel’s co-workers call her “Podunk” and “Fargo” because of her accent, even though she says she’s from the “north” about three hours away, presumably still in Wisconsin.

What this reader wanted was more story. Why doesn’t Hazel talk about her family? Where is “from the north?” Why is she drawn to the suicide bridge and why does she throw small things into the water where she saw a dead man floating? Why does she seem in such a dark mood that matches the city?

There are hints that this could be the start of a series so maybe we’ll get those answers.

“The Sweet Sisters” by Elizabeth Weiss (Dial Press, $27)

sweet sisters book cover“The Sisters Sweet,” the debut of a Minneapolis writer, begins in 1918 when Harriet and Josephine were 5 years old. Their mother, Maude, is a former star showgirl whose dancing career ended when a piece of the set fell on her. Their father, Leonard, is a stage designer who is waiting for his big break from the theater while calming his ego with drink.

Since no money comes into their family, Leonard comes up with the idea of ​​having the girls appear as conjoined twins. This is the most interesting part of the book, as the girls are attached to a “harness” made by their father so that they appear to be joined. He designs their costumes and they succeed — for a while. But we are nearing the end of the vaudeville era, with radio and movies taking over entertainment.

When the girls turn 15, beautiful and bubbly sister Josie rips off her harness on stage, revealing their secret and letting their enormous dress fold around a bewildered Harriet. (Not a spoiler.)

Josie sets out to become a star and Harriet must find out who she is on her own. It looks like she’s not much. She misses the closeness of Josie next to her, their arms clasped tightly together in their suits, communicating through finger presses.

With the family in disgrace for deceiving the public, Maude and Lenny again seek help from Uncle Eugene, who is married to Maude’s sister and shares a secret with Maude. One of the first preachers to understand the power of radio, Eugene built a radio ministry. In his sermons, he denounces modern girls who wear short skirts and smoke cigarettes. It’s the crazy girls. Harriet, knowing they must stay in the uncle’s good graces, comes across as a wise girl, always doing the right thing and even memorizing Bible versions to recite to her uncle.

The second half of the story turns into Harriet’s narration of her coming of age; his first kiss, his first sex, his drink and all the other things the uncle wouldn’t approve of.

When Lenny keeps drinking and there’s no money, he thinks Harriet could be a solo star, even though her mother said she wasn’t cut out for the stage. Harriet refuses, embarking on a new phase of life where she thinks she could finally become her own person.

Weiss’ writing is impeccable as she weaves the whole family together: the unbreakable bond of the twins; the love between Maude and Lenny, who can convince his wife of anything when he turns on the spell; and Harriet’s eventual understanding of how she was used by her parents even though she loves her mother. Curiously, when Maude’s secret is revealed to the twins later in life, they have a curious disinterest in something that directly affects them.

Sometimes a supporting character almost takes over the story and that’s the case with Uncle Eugene, a quintessential conservative preacher who helps the girls’ family just so he can appear magnanimous. His understanding in the early days of radio of how he can become known nationally is one of the most interesting parts of the story.

Maybe the author will write a novel about the scheming pastor, who could be one of the first e-vangelicals to ask for money.

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