The Desert Moon Mystery—Kay Cleaver Strahan–1928—used (several inexpensive copies available)
You may have noticed, after three picks, that I tend to enjoy the Golden Age Of Mysteries. The time period of the 20’s 30’s, and for me into the 40’s. Back in the day, as they say, mysteries tended to involve puzzles, upper class victims, civilized murder–you know, the arsenic in the tea etc., However, there were many exceptions, and this book is one. Odd, very odd in the telling of the story, the story itself, and a slam bang ending, which I know I guessed beforehand, but also understand had I been a reader in 1928 and these literary tricks were new, I wouldn’t have figured it out. Of course as I write this, I can’t remember exactly what that amazing ending consisted of. ha. Which makes it safe for anyone to read this article, I won’t be a spoiler!
The Desert Moon Mystery was the first Doubleday Crime Club book published. Doubleday had some of the best writers of crime fiction around, both from the UK and US. Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley were a few of the authors from Great Britain. Frank Packard, Hulbert Footner, and Rufus King were just a sampling from the US. Besides offering a slew of titles each year, Doubleday packaged their product brilliantly. The dust jackets were stunning–and during a certain point in their publishing history, the spines of Crime Clubs were fantastic works of art. Some of we collectors, tend to judge a book by its cover and collect the ones with the best jackets. Also, many Crime Clubs were quickly reprinted by various other publishers–Grosset and Dunlap, Triangle, naming a couple. The jacket I have up is from a Grosset and Dunlap reprint–with entirely different artwork from that of the first edition. The reprints are quite collectible now too, due to the scarcity of the first editions, as everyone seems to be collecting them. This publishing mecca came to an end in September, 1991. That’s a long darn time to be able to keep quality writing marketable.
Kay Cleaver Strahan didn’t write very many books, from what I can ascertain. According to Hubin’s Crime Fiction II, she penned 7 novels all with one detective, Lynn MacDonald, a female! But from what I remember of reading at least 3 of her books, MacDonald didn’t show up until quite late in the story, and then of course figured it out in the snap of a finger.
The story is narrated by the cook at the ranch setting and there’s were the oddness comes into play, at least for me. The manner in which the story unfolds is unusual and therefore fresh, even when reading today.
I’ll quote the Doubleday Crime Club jacket blurb because they do it sooooo well!
“Three murders and a suicide–one of them a lovely girl with a secret. No clues, yet clues everywhere. Days and nights of suspense, danger, suspicion. The Desert Moon Mystery offers the most sophisticated detective story fan, and unusual thrill.
With as swift and tricky plot as ever intrigued the brain of a mystery lover, this new Crime Club novel is at once a challenge and an adventure for the reader. Its scene is a Nevada ranch, yet it is not a Western story. But the strange and exciting events related here could have happened nowhere else.
Advance critics say this novel is a literary achievement. Its characters are poignantly real, its plot perfect, its climax and denouement as revealing as a flash of lightning. Read it–and keep the secret of its ending. Crime Club members never tell.”
Did you notice like I did that no plot points are ever mentioned? Which is bad for me, because I honestly can’t pull out of the dim recesses of my mind, any of the characters names or what they did. I only remember a sort of combination of the blurb–it was suspenseful, and the characters were interesting, and of course the ending was great–but who why or whatever, has disappeared, just like the Crime Club itself.
But, that being said, I remember just how much I loved it at the time–and that’s all I need to remember to put it up on my list. I warned y’all I may have sketchy details on some of the titles–those written so long ago. Plus, I’ve not the book at my fingertips to shuffle through–I’ve at least a thousand books, and they aren’t where I am, which makes it hard, lol.
A great reference source if you are interested in the workings and published titles of Doubleday’s Crime Club is a large book written by the late Ellen Nehr–The Doubleday Crime Club Compendium. 1928–1991. This book has guided me to find some of my best acquisitions. It has great synopsis’ of most books, and even descriptions of the boards and jackets of many titles. I believe you can find copies of this on any of the websites like bookfinder, that lists out of print books.
Don’t be put off by my lack of specific details–trust the jacket blurb and my overall love of the book, and get out there and find a copy–and come back and YOU tell us those details!