Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Quentin Patrick : Murder at the Women 's City Club, 1932

Patrick Quentin was a literary case rather than a pseudonym. In fact, under it there was a main author, who remained the same until the 1950s, and a series of other less fixed authors, who alternated, until arriving at another who then formed a pairing with the first.

As we have said elsewhere, Patrick Quentin or Quentin Patrick was not only a pseudonym, but also a company, formed from time to time by the union of 4 couples of writers, who signed differently: the most prolific one was formed by Richard Wilson Webb (1901 - 1966) and Hugh Callingham Wheeler (1912 - 1987), who signed together some novels with the initials Quentin Patrick, almost all with Patrick Quentin, and all with Jonathan Stagge: in practice, the beginning of this very successful collaboration dates back to 1936, when Webb, who, signing himself Quentin Patrick, had written some novels with both Martha Mott Kelley (1906–2005) and Mary Louise White Aswell (1902 - 1984), found Wheeler, an old friend of his. It must be said that both Webb and Wheeler were British by birth, but then, later, emigrating both to the United States, they became citizens.

The very first novels were written under the pseudonym Quentin Patrick. The authors who signed the first two Cottage Sinister of 1931 and Murder at the Women 's City Club of 1932 were Richard Wilson Webb and Martha Mott Kelley. Of the two 1933 novels, one was written by Richard Wilson Webb and Mary Louise White Aswell , S.S. Murder, while the other, Murder at Cambridge, by Webb alone.

Quentin Patrick's series consists of 12 titles:


1931 Cottage Sinister,

1932 Murder at the Women 's City Club

1933 Murder at Cambridge

1933 S.S. Murder

1935 The Grindle Nightmare

1936 Death Goes to School

1937 Death for Dear Clara

1937 The File on Fenton and Farr

1938 The File on Claudia Cragge

1939 Death and the Maiden

1941 Return to the Scene

1952 Danger Next Door

Among these 12 titles, The File on Claudia Cragge, like the previous The File on Fenton and Farr, is not a real novel, but rather a dossier complete with material evidence, photographs, testimonies and finds, which should have brought the reader to formulate an accusatory hypothesis.

According to novels signed as Quentin Patrick, Murder at the Women 's City Club is from 1932.

In essence, the action takes place at the Desborough Women's Club.


The Women's Club is a boarding house where males are not allowed, except Rudy the black handyman married to Cornelia, the black maid.

Males are not welcome as all or almost all of the pensioners have had a more or less disappointing past, either because of them or the other sex, with the male sex. The Club is chaired by Mabel Mulvaney, a rather wealthy woman. Mulvaney is hostile to another boarder, Diana Saffron, Doctor and Professor of Medicine at the University, well known and appreciated in the world for her honesty and inflexibility, an incorruptible and just woman, but now forced to bed due to a very rheumatoid arthritis. advanced, and for serious heart problems.

Diana Saffron is very attached to Doctor Freda Carter, a beautiful young girl whom she, with her help, her advice, and her small income, managed to graduate and is now well regarded for her activity in the hospital. citizen. However, she is contrite with her, because, contrary to her expectations, Freda has joined in an engagement with Sebastian Thurlow, a young scion, used to the good life, but with little ambition.

Sebastian was introduced to Freda by Deborah Entwistle, the third power of the pensioner: a close friend of Thurow, in the past Deborah had participated in plays and there she met Sebastian. In her room, which is a sort of neutral territory, the other boarders meet to talk, discuss and make peace: Miss Hoplinger, mystery writer, known under the pseudonym of Gerald Strong; Miss Millicent Trimmer, secretary of the Club, a very rich woman in her youth but then unexpectedly found herself in a bad way after her father's bankruptcy and consequent suicide; Amy Riddle, social worker.

The seven women live in rooms located on the various floors of the Club: the rooms have no bathroom, and therefore the boarders use a common one on the floor; the one on the second floor, however, is broken, under renovation and locked, and therefore the boarders often use the one on the third floor.

The locked and uninhabitable bathroom is the one marked by an X in the sketch subsequently prepared by the Inspector of Police Boot. Yes, because, on a given morning, the lifeless corpse of Doctor Saffron is discovered in her gas-saturated chamber. It is Dr. Freda Carter, his protégé, who had had an altercation with her protector the night before regarding her relationship with Thurow, who discovered the lifeless body, turned off the gas tap, opened the windows and broke the glass by throwing it. something against, so as to disperse the gas.

Since Dr. Saffron was unable to walk on her own due to the very advanced stage of arthritis, and even if she did, it would have caused a series of noises that no one had heard the night before or during the night, it follows that it must be it was someone else who turned on the gas tap and closed the windows, since when Dr. Carter went, the fireplace was out and the windows were open. It is therefore a question of murder. The police are then called, and in charge of the investigation, the least indicated person of all is called, the misogynist Inspector Boot. Which immediately finds a hostile and conspiratorial environment.

The number one suspect would be Dr. Carter, but coincidentally it was she, together with Dr. Sibley, the coroner, who formulated the hypothesis that she was murdered: for what reason would she have to reveal that the fireplace was out and windows open if she was the killer? It would be enough to say that the windows were closed and the fireplace lit: due to a fatality it would have gone out and therefore… the accident.

Ms. Mulvaney is not present at the time of the discovery of the body, because shortly before she left for the city for matters related to the Club; Miss Trimmer has been absent for a few days; Mr. Thurow was not there (will come later). So essentially the suspects at the moment are Riddle, Hoplinger, Carter and Entwistle.

The inspector begins to question them but does not dig a spider out of the hole. Furthermore, all boarders have a habit of locking themselves up from the inside, and therefore either it was a strange suicide (the crutches are abandoned in a corner of the room with a thin layer of dust on them) or it was a murder and the Doctor trusted her killer. He had no other good relations, however, except with Miss Entwistle.

The night before the tragedy, before Dr. Carter arrived, the victim and Mrs. Mulvaney should have talked about something important: this is because the relationship between the two women (La saffron was the treasurer of the Club, Mulvaney the president ) were almost non-existent, and therefore a face-to-face meeting in the room of one of the two assumed that there was something extremely important to talk about.

Mulvaney then went to consult an agency that was in charge of reporting the Club's accounts, and it will be known why an important shortfall was found. The newly arrived Mrs. Mulvaney expresses the desire to talk about it, exercise book in hand, to Inspector Boot as soon as possible, but in the night, despite a policeman guarding the entrance, footsteps can be heard on the stairs.

Miss Entwistle, who has premonitions from time to time, connects those footsteps in the middle of the night (but they could also be of people going to the bathroom, although everyone denies they went) to "something that is about to happen", of which she is afraid of. Rudy himself hears them, goes to check, says he saw a figure cloaked in white in front of Mrs Mulvaney's door on the fourth floor (he came down from the attic where he and his wife have the service room), who will talk about it as much as first to the inspector. The fact is that the next morning, Mrs Mulvaney was found dead asphyxiated by gas in her room, after being stunned with a blunt object. A second assassination. Inspector Boot sees more and more red, especially since he does not like that environment of pedantic women: already one of the novels by Gerard Strong alias Constance Hoplinger, entitled "The Black Serpent", has curious resemblances to the crime of Safron and then of Mulvaney; but then he suspects that the young lady

Entwistle is hiding something from him, as he suspects that he caused the elevator that was taking them up to stop, allowing someone to sneak into the Saffron's room.

The inspector quizzes everyone present, and in the course of the meeting, the two servants are accused by Miss Riddle: Cornelia of theft and Rudy of murder, for trying to cover up his wife's crime. While Deborah engages in a passionate defense of the waitress, the inspector would like to speak to Rudy, because the accusatory hypothesis is better than his. But then, he has to turn around when Rudy is found stabbed to death in the elevator.

In the evening Miss Entwistle reveals her hypothesis to the inspector: that is, that Saffron committed suicide and a murderer killed Mulvaney in the same way, trying to make the two deaths appear connected to the same murderer. This of course is related to alibis. But the inspector doesn't believe her.

The next morning he will repeat the same theory in front of everyone, including Thurow and the inspector, and point to the killer of Mulvaney and Rudy as well.


This second novel did not report the success of the first, and essentially brought about the end of the literary relationship between Richard Wilson Webb and Martha Mott Kelley. For what reason

First of all, the novel lacks a temporal dimension linked to the murders: it is known that they happen at night, or in the morning, but not knowing when events take place, on what day of the week, at what time of year, even in what year, undoubtedly creates a certain disorientation.


And then the reader is silenced some clues: the key that Miss Entwistle appropriates is not known what it is, except that it would be at the basis of the solution of the mystery; the fact that the keys to the rooms had duplicates is kept silent: how would the killer have made his way into the Mulvaney room which was locked from the inside, if not having an identical key and operating and trafficking from the outside? And the way to enter the room itself has something dangerous in itself: the killer could have opened the door from the outside by introducing the key and dropping the key from the inside onto the thick carpet, but only if the key, after having closed it , had been left undirected; if instead it had been turned, the killer would have had to, in extremely fast times, first turn the key with tweezers, making himself light (and lights were not seen but only footsteps heard) and then push it, running enormous risks.

There is only one clue that is left there to turn, launched at the beginning of the novel, which has no relationship with the murder, but with Saffron's private life, which will determine the final blow: that I had framed properly , and I expected the bomb to be dropped sooner or later.

There is also a pretty obvious red herring: from the floor plan you can see the bathroom indicated by an X, and Deborah steals a key. Why not think that the killer hid inside and then came out at the right time?

So in essence the novel is not bad at all: it is a more classic mystery than ever, with a rather centered solution, and the framing of the murderer works on the basis that by acting in such a way that the two deaths in the rooms were produced by a same hand, for one of the two he had an iron alibi and as such for both; and the attribution of suicide to the first death is explained on the basis of the map (the shut-off cock, is the gas stop knob that is near the bed).

However, the most interesting features of the novel are: Inspector Boot's misogynist vein who finds himself facing various women and above all one who not only deeply dislikes him, but who also has the solution he lacks; the constant bickering between him and the women; the fact that the police inspector is a clumsy and conceited colossal, who works together with a journalist, Dunn, who supports him from the outside. But above all Quentin Patrick's stylistic criticisms of Van Dine.

Here, it is precisely the way of dealing with Miss Entwistle's situation, which allows her to solve the problem: she who comes to the head of the situation on the basis of the psychological framework of the murderer (later explained by himself) and on the circumstances for which , only he, would have had the greatest possible advantage if the second death had been superimposed on the first, he is the detective; while Inspector Boot, who does not move forward because he is based on clues that he cannot find and thinks that they have been stolen from him, is the defeated element.Moreover Quentin, on purpose, when introducing a passage from Hoplinger's hypothetical novel, "The Black Snake", in which the effeminate detective is a living encyclopedia, loves purple shirts and smokes Sudanese cigarettes, elaborates accusatory theories only by feeding on mussels and grapefruit juice, he lectures on the sapphic odes and on Picasso's symbolism, and has a friend who is a proxy, evidently he makes a mockery of Philo Vance, making fun of him.

Pietro De Palma

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