The So Blue Marble—Dorothy B. Hughes–1940–used
‘One delighted voice said, “Griselda, fancy seeing you!”
The other one was laughing, “We’d thought you’d never come!”
She could see the tall silk hats, the shining white scarves, the dark coats, the sticks under their arms. Even in shadow, she knew she had never seen their faces.’
This is how the reader meets the first truly sociopathic characters in crime fiction, as far as I am concerned. Before The So Blue Marble, there were killers who were portrayed as maniacs, and some with cold cunning, but none so nonchalant, unemotional, and deadly. David and Danny Montefierrow, twins, one as dark as the other light, dress in stylish high society garb, never without their rather old fashioned walking sticks. They commandeer Griselda Cameron Satterlee, and usher her into the apartment of her ex-husband Con, where she is temporarily staying while in New York City. They demand, with polish and politeness, the blue marble, the sooo blue marble. Griselda claims ignorance and is rescued, temporarily, from their sinister presence by the neighbor across the hall, known as Gig.
[Also: Diane’s list of 100 of the best Mysteries]
I could’t decide which Dorothy B. Hughes title I wanted on my best list, so I thought I’d go with her first. Uh, found out, I’d never READ the damn book. How embarrassing. I could have gone with Ride the Pink Pony, or The Fallen Sparrow, but did I? No. So, either I read it and admit it doesn’t make the cut, don’t read it and admit I didn’t read it, or read it and decide if it does make the cut. It does, but kind of under the wire.
Because of her innovative use of the completely conscienceless killers, both twins, and Griselda’s little sister, Missy, this book is a milestone. It’s also brutally violent, with senseless slaughter-first a superintendent of Griselda’s apartment building, then a faceless individual in a bank, and later the disfiguration death of a beautiful movie star. The blue marble is a Maltese Falcon, she borrowed heavily from Hammett for the story behind this tiny marble, supposedly it’s from a lost civilization. It opens, has a map inside, and a gives complete world domination to its possessor. I may have used a little hyperbole but it comes close enough to Hughes’ description. But she has some large plot holes you are supposed to miss while being caught up with the endless movements of Griselda and the twins, because the book is nothing if not mobile. Griselda spends the bulk of the book trying to avoid the twins and her unhinged jealous sister, and the police, because they are aware she’s in the thick of things. Her ex-husband pops up, he’s a news radio man, with murky government work on the side, and she being in love still, has made a promise to herself that he wouldn’t be hurt by the brothers. She finds the marble in a fairly accessible spot–which is the huge hole in the plot, and decides to get it out of her apartment any way she can, so she casually shops for various and sundry items, one being a doll for her other society sister’s niece, and she sews the marble within. Leaving the doll for the 2 year old.
What is so compelling about the book are the actions of the twins, and Missy. The twins are classic sociopaths. Gorgeous to look at, witty, charming to a fault, with inbred manners, all that meet them are mesmerized by their personalities. Yet none can see past their glassy depthless eyes–there is nothing behind them. Missy is a spoiled pretty teen, who has been traveling with the brothers for quite some time. For a 1040 book, that plot line alone is quite daring. She is obsessed with Danny, and will literally slash out when riled. The weapons of choice for the twins are long stiletto tips of their walking sticks. A calm easy way to rid themselves of any obstacle, or perceived one. At one point, Danny has his face cut with his own stick, right afterward, he slashes his brother’s face so they will have exact scars. There is never any attempt by Hughes to explain their behavior, no lack of nurture, no societal failings. Not for the twins, but Missy is another story. She is volatile when on some kind of cigarette given her by the brothers, they possess two kinds–one for down, one for up, and she’s misusing the ups. There is a small sad paragraph about Missy having been ignored her life, she’s so much younger than her siblings, and had been stuck with a selfish self absorbed dilettante mother in Europe, until Missy took off with the twins. There is a question in Griselda’s mind whether Missy would have turned out this way had she been given the proper love and attention. But it’s a short footnote to an extremely violent girl.
The usual loose ends are tied up, and maybe when I was a teen I would have been taken back by a couple of disclosures, but I’m old old old and seen or read most plots by now, and surprise is hard to come by for me, lol. Nonetheless, those twins are worth reading about, soulless and and as deadly as any serial killer out there today.