Biblio expert Henry Gamadge was not much of a believer in the supernatural. When an elderly acquaintance asked his opinion about an etching on which some lettering had appeared quite suddenly, Gamadge was quite sure he could come up with a natural, rather than supernatural, explanation. What he could not foresee was how that peculiar lettering could lead to murder. And before it was over, Gamadge himself would become the target of a remarkably determined and increasingly desperate killer.
It all happens in The Wrong Way Down, by Elizabeth Daly. Originally published in 1946, it was the eleventh of Daly's sixteen books about bibliophile and rare book and manuscript expert Henry Gamadge. It is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
If you're not familiar with Elizabeth Daly - said to be one of Agatha Christie's favorite American authors - then you have a treat in store for you when you read The Wrong Way Down. Daly, like Christie, was an expert in fairly misdirecting her readers, providing clues that I suspect most readers, self included, are likely to miss - until the end of the book. Among the joys of her books is the pleasure of walking with Gamadge through the streets of New York City in the 1940s, visiting the still-occupied city houses of the middle-to-upper class, many of them just east of Central Park – and a surprising number of them hiding possibly deadly secrets.
And of course, that's what seems to be happening in The Wrong Way Down. An elderly woman, trying to close up a New York City house for out-of-town relatives, finds that a familiar, and not particularly remarkable, engraving in that house has acquired some text on its surface - text which definitely had not been there before the visit of a self-styled Spiritualist medium. Supernatural? Gamadge, not surprisingly, says no. He can explain what has happened - and why. But he is not prepared for murder - or to become the target of some unsuccessful attempts on his own life.
It's a lovely book, particularly the sense of nostalgia it evokes for a gentler New York City. The ending is a surprise (or at least it was to me); Gamadge, generally unflappable and polite, is one of my favorite amateur detectives. I must say I do prefer some of Daly's other books - particularly The Book of the Dead, but there is much to enjoy in The Wrong Way Down. I do recommend it heartily.
The Wrong Way Down is another entry in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog. I am entering it for the requirement to "read one book with an amateur detective."