If there was one point on which many of the long-time residents of the Hotel Richelieu agreed, it was that the Richelieu was a good place to live. That, of course, was before someone began turning it into a better place to die. Violently. And as the police were struggling to figure out what was going on, it was going to be a self-proclaimed "old battle-ax," Adelaide Adams, who would play a central role in solving Murder á la Richelieu, a 1937 mystery by an author virtually unknown today, Anita Blackmon. Murder a la Richelieu is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Anita Blackmon wrote only two mysteries, which is unfortunate. She is very much a highly-skilled member of the Had I But Known school of detective fiction made popular by American author Mary Roberts Rinehart. Her narrator, Adelaide Adams, has a fair amount of fun with that particular convention. I mean how can you resist a book whose protagonist observes: "Had I suspected the orgy of bloodshed upon which we were about to embark, I should then and there, in spite of my bulk and an arthritic knee, have taken shrieking to my heels." I think it's the arthritic knee which makes that such a fine parody of the genre.
In any case, Adelaide Adams proceeds to tell us about the murderous events at the Hotel Richelieu, a residential hotel located in an unidentified city in the American south (apparently Little Rock, Arkansas). As for the events she goes on to describe…well they begin with the murder of a man found hanging in Adelaide’s room with his throat cut, and go on from there. By the time it is over, we will be dealing with multiple killings and a number of other serious crimes, along with some wholesale blackmailing. And the police will note - as will the reader - that it is usually Adelaide Adams who finds the latest body...
It's a complex mystery, with a fair number of subplots that suddenly twist and fall into place, though that place is not always where the reader might have expected. It is an engaging mystery, with enough humor and plot twists to carry the reader through some fairly grim events.
I am indebted to mystery scholar Curtis Evans for my first exposure to Anita Blackmon. Evans wrote the introduction to the new Coachwhip Publications edition of Murder a la Richelieu, as well as a lengthy post on his blog, The Passing Tramp. He calls Murder a la Richelieu an example of "The twentieth-century HIBK tale at its best." I agree completely.
This review is another entry in the My Reader's Block blog reading challenge 2014 Vintage Mystery Bingo - it is an example of "one book with a place in the title." For full details about the challenge, be sure to check out the reading results pages at the blog.