You have to have at least a little sympathy for the managers of Blankfort's, one of New York City's gigantic department stores. Here they are, all set for one of the biggest sales ever held at the store - a sale which could be critical to the store's long-term prospects - and their business manager had to go and get himself murdered inside the store. Really, it was intolerable.
Welcome to Blankfort's, on Fifth Avenue - and welcome to Death Wears a White Gardenia, by Zelda Popkin. Written in 1939, it was the first of her mysteries featuring department store detective Mary Carner, a remarkably sharp and intelligent detective who was most disinclined to let either police or the store's management get away with anything. Death Wears a White Gardenia is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
The murder at Blankfort's took place at the worst possible time for the store's owners and managers. The body of the business manager was found stuffed into a small room just off the main sales floor, just when the wife of the Governor of New York was due to open the sale before the photographers. Blankfort's had a lot riding on a successful sale, which might explain why the store's top brass seemed to be doing everything they could to block the police. Not that the job was going to be easy! As Inspector Heinsheimer put it:
The trouble with this crime is that there are too damn many possibilities. We’ve already got two wronged women, a coke sniffing thief, a mysterious business associate, and there were half a hundred people around the store last night after your closing time whom we haven’t even talked to…a department store’s a hell of a place for a murder.
As it happens, the real investigation is carried out by Mary Carner, the store's number two detective but unquestionably the person in charge of figuring out who did what to whom - and why.There are signs that the business manager may have been blackmailing some of the store’s clients who were using their charge accounts to provide for their mistresses. The mystery is set against a background of a big department store’s day-to-day operations, at least as they might have been encountered in 1939. The salespeople, elevator operators, cleaning people, security staff, advertising copywriters, and more, all are important as the plot develops, and there are a lot of interesting and believable characters.
Having said all that, I’d have to say that I’m not sure how strongly I can recommend this book. While the characters and the setting are developed nicely, there are plot twists which – to me – are so far removed from reality as to be intrusive and even annoying. I read this book because another reviewer (whose tastes I generally share) recommended it highly. I'm willing to be second-guessed here: if you've read Death Wears a White Gardenia, by Zelda Popkin, what did you think of it? You can leave me a note in the comments below!
As part of my continuing commitment to the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, I am submitting this to cover the Bingo square calling for one book by an author you've never read before. For details about the challenge, and what I'm doing for it, please click here.
(UPDATED to correct the Bingo square. Don't ask.)