by Phoebe Atwood Taylor
Series: Asey Mayo #1
Publication Date: January 1, 1931
Project: a century of women, American mystery classics
Set within the brooding landscape of Cape Code, these classic who-dunits are sure to please dedicated Phoebe Atwood Taylor fans and newcomer mystery buffs alike. First, a best-selling author turns up dead. Then Asey's best friend becomes the chief suspect and Asey knows he has to do something. There's only one clue: a sardine can. And only one weekend to clear it all up.
This was the Appointment with Agatha side read for January. It was first published in 1931 and was my 6th finished book of 2022. It’s my second Phoebe Atwood Taylor book, although the first, The Iron Clew, was actually published under the name Alice Tilton.
Anyway, back to The Cape Cod Mystery. This book is first in the Asey Mayo series, and is set in the titular Cape Cod. In spite of the fact that the plot summary for my edition references “the brooding landscape of Cape Cod,” there was nothing brooding in the tone of this mystery for me. If I had to come up with an adjective, “gusty” leaps to my mind. The entire time I was reading it, I felt like I was standing in a stiff breeze. In spite of the fact that the plot dragged, the book itself propelled me along like a small sailboat in a freshening wind. That’s also how I felt about The Iron Clew, by the way, which was even more mad cap.
This was written when Taylor was only 21 years old, and I think that contributed to my sense of activity. I was also reminded of early Nancy Drew in the way that the characters interact with each other and are obviously of an upper class, along with the various mentions of clothing and food. The narrator, Prudence Whitsby, is about my age (her age is mentioned at one point – I think it was 54’ish) but comes off as much younger than that. It was also written at the height of the depression, but aside from a few distant mentions of poverty, it would be impossible to tell that the United States was deep in economic privation.
The victim in the book was wholly abhorrent, and also interestingly modern, with his “debunking humanity” book themes, which could have come directly from the pen of a grumpy, middle-aged white man in 2022 writing the “Great American Novel” without a care for who it harms. Also, the fact that the cabin containing the dead victim was apparently only slightly less busy that Grand Central Station was bewildering. I couldn’t keep track of who all was running in and out of the cabin with the dead body.
Unfortunately, while I liked the breezy tone (there are a lot of wind references in this review; that’s intentional), I really didn’t like the inserts of vernacular. I struggle with vernacular/dialect/pidgin in books at best – only writers with the power of Zora Neale Hurston, in my mind, can actually pull it off. Phoebe Atwood Taylor is no Zora Neale Hurston and the way that Asey Mayo talked drove me crazy.
Still, 3 1/2 stars is pretty good.