For twenty years, someone in the Clayborn family had kept a deadly secret locked behind the almost-invisible door of a sealed room inside the family home in New York City. Now, the room was to be opened - and a member of the Clayborn family invited bibliophile and documents expert Henry Gamadge to be on hand for the unsealing of the room. He had no idea of the terrible secret hidden behind that door.
That's the basic premise of "Somewhere in the House," a 1946 mystery by Elizabeth Daly, an author said to have been Agatha Christie's favorite American writer. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire thing by clicking here.
I wish I could remember where I read it, but someone once observed that Henry Gamadge makes Dorothy L. Sayers' detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, look rather crude and unpolished. If that's a bit of an exaggeration, still there is no doubt that Gamadge, with his polished manners and his friends and acquaintances in the most exclusive drawing rooms of New York City society in the mid-1940s, is a keen observer who uses his intelligence and his experience with rare books to solve difficult and often peculiar crimes.
Certainly, that's the situation he finds in the Clayborn mansion. He is invited to protect the interests of one family member, Harriet Clayborn Leeder, when that sealed room is opened - and he is told to be on the lookout for a collection of unique and extremely valuable buttons (yes, buttons). What is revealed when the door is opened is something quite different...and it becomes apparent that someone is willing to kill to preserve a secret.
This is a first-rate mystery. Daly was a superb plotter, and she could mislead a reader with ease while still providing key clues to an excellent puzzle. Her books are filled with surprising, but quite rational, twists and turns. Gamadge is a very likeable detective, which also helps. The Felony & Mayhem Press has been reissuing Elizabeth Daly's books, and I urge you to get a copy of "Somewhere in the House" and enjoy a first-rate, thoroughly enjoyable mystery.