I picked up this copy of The Promise of Murder [also known as Melora] (1959) by the uniquely-named Mignon G. Eberhart from a used bookstore in Madison on our vacation. How could I resist? The cover is awesome and the author's name is Mignon. When I did a little searching on the author I discovered that 1) She is a woman; 2) She is from my hometown; 3) She went to the same undergraduate liberal arts college that I went to. I also found out that she was one of the most successful female mystery writers (known as "America's Agatha Christie") and that she has written over 60 books. And now I want to read more of them.
The set-up for The Promise of Murder is a lot like Daphne Du maurier's novel (and Alfred Hitchcock's film) Rebecca. A naive young second wife, Anne, comes into a wealthy household and is overwhelmed by the unspoken memory of the first wife, Melora. In this case, however, Melora isn't dead -- she just divorced Brent almost two years ago. No one ever talks about Melora, not even Anne's sister-in-law Cassie -- the widow of Brent's brother who, with her teenage son and daughter, has lived with Brent for the past fifteen years and ran every aspect of his household.
Brent gets called away to lawyery business in France the same day that the two kids head back to boarding school and Cassie goes to visit friends in the country. Anne sees them all off and goes up to the study only to find a piece of her letterhead in the typewriter with the words "I am going to kill you" typed on it. She gets a little nervous, but blows it off as a joke by one of the kids. After an un-nerving run-in with Melora, Anne finds another note, then another. The teenage daughter comes home unexpectedly with the flu and the two settle in for a suspenseful night full of creepy elevators, appearing and disappearing knives, cut phone lines, and a doctor who might not be a doctor at all.
Soon everyone returns and, after a physical confrontation, the police arrive. But then people start dying. And everything seems to revolve around the alluring Melora...
I think this essay does a nice job of illustrating the appeal of Eberhart's writing. A little romantic, a lot suspenseful, a tiny bit goofy, and entirely enjoyable.
[Wonderfully awesome back cover available here.]