Meet Asey Mayo. A life-long resident of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A remarkably handy handyman, an enthusiastic fisherman, the right-hand-man of Bill Porter, a wealthy young man whose Porter Motors is a major automobile manufacturer. As it turns out, it's a good thing Asey is around when his boss is accused of murder by the local policeman, a young man whose primary job is being a clerk in a small general store. It's up to Asey Mayo to prove his boss didn't do it - and to solve "The Cape Cod Mystery," the title of the 1931 book by Phoebe Atwood Taylor which introduced Asey Mayo to the reading public. "The Cape Cod Mystery" is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the whole review by clicking here.
The book begins in the midst of a brutally hot summer in the Northeast - the kind of summer, in the days before air conditioning, that led city dwellers to escape when they could to places like Cape Cod. Miss Prudence Whitsby, the narrator of "The Cape Cod Mystery," finds herself overloaded with letters and telegrams from friends and acquaintances hoping to get an invitation to stay at her home. She manages to avoid most of them, though she does invite a few people to stay with her.
However, she has a new next-door neighbor, an author named Dale Sanborn, who quickly manages to get himself murdered. That local policeman immediately arrests Bill Porter for no particularly good reason. Enter Asey Mayo, who begins to investigate on his own and quickly discovers that just about everybody in the area had a good reason to hate Dale Sanborn. And we're off on a romp through the small back roads of the Cape, the interconnected families and friends, and any number of suspicious circumstances, as Asey Mayo uncovers the truth about the murder.
Phoebe Atwood Taylor wrote some two dozen books featuring Asey Mayo. As the series went on, she introduced more humor into the books. But this first book in the series is a little more serious - though there's still plenty of humor, not to mention some first-rate Cape Cod homilies.
I have always enjoyed the Asey Mayo books, and while there may be a few rough edges here, it's still vintage Mayo and, of course, vintage Taylor. The dialogue is colorful; at one point, for example, Asey observes, “It can’t be done, as the feller said when he tried to chew his elbow." Silly? Sure, but fun. and Asey is a good detective - although he tends to keep his clues hidden from everyone (including the reader) for too long. But then, as he observes to Prudence Whitsby near the end of the book, “Even ole Sherlock Holmes, Miss Prue, had to do somethin’ funny every so often so’s folks would keep on bein’ ‘mazed by him. He had to let ‘em know he was thinkin’ about fifteen miles ahead of ‘em, so’s they could say wasn’t he wonderful when he broke down an’ explained it all.”
Well, OK. I'll drink to that, I suppose. I do find Asey Mayo is delightful company - and if I like the later books in the series somewhat better than I like the first one, there's still more than enough fun here to recommend "The Cape Cod Mystery." It's still in print and available as a paperback; there's also an edition for the Amazon Kindle.