I'd better start this review with a warning: while the mystery I'm about to review here is indeed a "traditional" mystery with an amateur sleuth, it is no "cozy." Readers who don't want to read books in which innocents - and some animals - are rather graphically dispatched may want to pick some other book for their reading pleasure this weekend. That said, however, I do think there's a lot to recommend There Is No Return, by Anita Blackmon, which is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
There Is No Return, originally published in 1938, was the second of just two mysteries to feature a woman named Adelaide Adams, described by some acquaintances as a tough old battle-ax. Both mysteries are firmly in the so-called "Had I But Known" school made popular by authors such as Mary Roberts Rinehart. In a Had I But Known mystery, the narrator, usually a middle-aged or older woman, frequently muses (for our edification) that, had she but known the terrors awaiting her behind that locked door, she would never have tried to open that door by herself in the middle of the night. Details may vary, but that's usually the point.
In There Is No Return, our narrator, Adelaide Adams, is summoned by an old friend to the LeBeau Inn, a ramshackle old resort in the Ozarks. In true HIBK fashion, she muses, ""[h]ad I foreseen the train of horrible events which settled over that isolated mountain inn like a miasma of death upon the afternoon of my arrival, I should have left [my friend] to lay her own ghosts." It appears that a lot of strange, unexplained and highly unpleasant things have been happening at the inn. Those strange things include a series of séances at which, much to the distress of the people staying at the hotel, an evil spirit seems to have taken over the body of another woman. Those hotel guests include a very rich man and a number of his family members, along with a spiritualist and hypnotist generally regarded as a charlatan. And it isn’t very long after Adelaide’s arrival before someone is murdered – rather graphically, I'm afraid. A lot of the guests – including the members of the victim’s family – seem to think it’s the work of the malevolent ghost of the rich man’s dead daughter, Gloria Canby. But Adelaide Adams doesn’t believe in ghosts, or spiritualism – that’s the meaning of the book’s title, There Is No Return. But after the murder, just as the sheriff and his assistants arrive on the scene, the local bridge is washed out – and the surviving guests realize they are now marooned at the hotel, with someone – whether human or ghost – prepared to murder and murder again. Adelaide Adams’s search for the truth is going to land her in grave danger before everything is resolved.
It sounds grim - and sometimes it is grim. But there's always an underlying current of humor, and Adelaide Adams is surprisingly endearing as a character - after all, there are times when the skepticism of an old battle-ax can be very useful for cutting through a maze of superstitious terror. I think the book can be well worth your reading time.