Life certainly wasn't easy for Georgine Wyeth, a young mother and widow trying to scrape together a living in Berkeley, California, during the dark days of World War II. It was a time when many Americans on the west coast learned to live with night-time blackouts, fearing a possible air attack on their cities. Georgine was trying her hand at selling magazine subscriptions door-to-door the day she came to Grettry Road, a small, dead-end street in the Berkeley hills. She certainly thought her luck had changed when she suddenly found a temporary job there working as a typist for a local professor who apparently was working on some major new invention. But it wasn't long before Georgine realized that there were a lot of possibly dangerous secrets on Grettry Road. And that was before she stumbled over the body in the blackout...
That's the initial situation in the undeservedly obscure Skeleton Key, by Lenore Glen Offord, first published in 1943. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
When Georgine trips over the body, it appears that the victim had been struck by a runaway car. At first, it’s written off as an accident – but there are things that don’t add up. Georgine confides in one of the neighbors, a young mystery writer named Todd McKinnon – and she also goes to the police with her story. Contrary to what you may expect, they do take her seriously – and it quickly becomes clear that this is indeed a murder. And Georgine, whether she knows it or not, may have the only clue to the murderer’s identity.
The plot is nicely developed, with the requisite number of surprise twists, and some very well-realized characters. The book also is quite good at recreating the often-nightmarish atmosphere of those war years, when many on the West Coast feared the kind of attacks which had become tragically common in Europe.
Offord only wrote about a dozen books, including just eight mysteries, and her name has pretty well been forgotten. Happily, the Felony & Mayhem Press has rediscovered Offord's Skeleton Key, and is releasing it at the end of this week with a new introduction by Sarah Weinman. In that introduction, she writes, "Lenore Glen Offord deserves the much wider audience that these new reissues will undoubtedly bring, a contemporary audience certain to enjoy her novels." I couldn't agree more.
The publisher kindly sent me a copy for this review.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
I have already mentioned that I am participating in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. The Bingo card has 36 squares to be filled by reading a book appropriate to each square's instructions. Skeleton Key is my entry for the square (fourth row, second column) which calls for a book by an author you've never read before.