It is probably a very good thing for civilization in general that so many murderers make mistakes that expose their schemes. Obviously, this happens all the time in mystery fiction: the best-laid plans of a clever killer are thwarted by some critical bit of evidence. Sometimes, it is a very large and very obvious error on the killer's part. And sometimes it can be as small and as seemingly inconsequential as a single drop of blood. That is what happens in a largely-forgotten mystery from America's Golden Age of Detective Fiction called One Drop of Blood, a 1932 "lost classic" by Anne Austin, now brought back into print by the Resurrected Press. The book is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
One Drop of Blood begins with the murder of Dr. Carl Koenig, the chief psychiatrist at the Mayfield Sanitarium in the midwestern U. S. city of Hamilton. The weapon used to kill Dr. Koenig is the proverbial "blunt instrument," and the psychiatrist's office has been trashed, presumably by the killer. Is the murderer one of the quite possibly insane patients? Or is it a perfectly sane, if devilish, plot created by someone else - perhaps one of the other staff members at the Sanitarium? The primary detective is James "Bonnie" Dundee, special investigator for the District Attorney's office in Hamilton. It is Dundee who points out the discrepancies in the evidence which make it pretty certain that they are dealing with a sane and cunning killer. And it is also Dundee who will discover what will eventually prove to be the critical piece of evidence: a drop of blood at the murder scene where there really shouldn't have been a drop of blood.
I do have to point out the Dundee is hindered, rather than helped, by the head of the local homicide squad, Captain Strawn, who is certainly one of the dumbest "Watsons" I've ever run across in detective fiction, far outdoing such non-geniuses as Poirot's friend, Captain Hastings. Every time a new clue is discovered, Captain Strawn spends several pages coming up with moronic theories about who the murderer must be. I found the character sufficiently irritating that he slowed down my reading of the book. Fortunately, he largely disappears for the second half, and I must say that, once he's gone and Dundee gets going on those small clues, the book becomes a real page-turner. About two-thirds of the way through the book, in the best traditions of the classic puzzle mystery, Dundee treats the reader to a list of questions to be answered that, he says, should lead to the criminal. Match wits with him, if you like.
This new edition of One Drop of Blood includes a foreword by Greg Fowlkes, the Editor-In-Chief of Resurrected Press. It contains a good deal of background about Anne Austin and some discussion of the state of psychiatric knowledge and treatment at the time the book was written. I do wish the publisher had been more careful about the typos that have crept into the digital version of the book, which are far too frequent.
I discovered One Drop of Blood after seeing a review on John Norris's fine blog at Pretty Sinister Books, and I recommend his review to you as well. I am submitting Anne Austin's One Drop of Blood to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog to cover the entry calling for "one book already read by a fellow challenger," as John read this book and reviewed it back in January.