Murder on “B” Deck

Vincent Starrett. Penzler, $15.95 trade paper (236p) ISBN 978-1-61316-279-8

First published in 1929, this cunning closed-circle whodunit from Starrett (1886–1974) opens in Manhattan, where mystery novelist Dunstan Mollock is seeing off his sister, Mavis, and her new husband, who are about to depart on their European honeymoon aboard the Latakia. After Mollock disembarks, he realizes that he forgot to give Mavis an advance copy of his latest book. He returns to do so, only to be stuck on the ship when he misses his last opportunity to get off. Making the best of the situation, Mollock flirts with passenger Dhu Harrington, who persuades him to start writing his next novel and to set it on a ship like the Latakia. Mollock starts dictating the first chapter to Miss Harrington in the presence of some others who have asked to listen in, including an old friend, former intelligence officer Walter Ghost. The recital’s interrupted by news that someone has been strangled in their cabin, and Ghost is tapped to investigate. Ghost probes the possible motives of his fellow passengers, including Miss Harrington, but another life’s claimed before he reaches the fairly clued solution. Starrett makes the most of the setting and populates it with an array of potential suspects. This definitely merits being labeled an American Mystery classic. (Jan.)
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