Was somebody in rural Maine going around giving poisonous berries to childen?
That was the question troubling police. It's the reason why a detective named Mitchell telephoned Henry Gamadge in New York. Gamadge had been able to help Mitchell on a previous case. Could he possibly come up to Maine and tackle a most peculiar case involving children who apparently got hold of the poisonous berries of the nightshade plant? You'll find the full details in Deadly Nightshade, by Elizabeth Daly. Originally published in 1940, right at the end of the Golden Age of detective fiction, it was the second case involving book-and-document expert Henry Gamadge. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
The situation, as explained to Gamadge, was like this: the belladonna poisonings appeared to be accidental – but the victims were children. One child had lived, one child had died, and a third child – and her cat – had disappeared. It’s not clear how the children got the poisoned berries. Could they have come from a tribe of gypsies camping in the area? There is also talk of a mysterious lady in a car who may have given the deadly berries to the children. But why would anyone do that?
Gamadge becomes convinced that the poisonings were, in fact, deliberate - and that there may be a link to the death of a local police officer in a motorcycle crash on the night when the poisonings happened. And he will find himself in considerable danger as he gets closer to the truth in this case.
I'm a fan of Elizabeth Daly, an American author with a fine talent for misdirecting the reader's attention as she skillfully hides clues to the real nature of the events in her books. Deadly Nightshade was only her second book and, frankly, I think her later books improved considerably, although I did enjoy this one as well. It's quite lively, with plenty of surprising twists and certainly deserves a place on your To Be Read list.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Deadly Nightshade is my entry for the square (first row, sixth column) calling for one book with a method of murder in the title.