Monday, March 26, 2007

Murder's Little Sister - Pamela Branch

First published 1958; cover shown is the 1988 Pandora Press (UK) paperback edition (Classic Women Crime Writers series).

For me, Branch's fourth and final book, Murder's Little Sister, does not quite measure up to the first three, The Wooden Overcoat and Murder Every Monday in particular. But it is still highly readable, with its madcap, non-stop antics and deliciously black humour.

Enid Marley, the Agony Aunt of the nearly bankrupt You magazine in London, decides to kill herself. First she sticks her head in the oven, making sure to time it just right so her cleaning lady will arrive while she is still unconscious. All Enid ends up with is a headache: the Gas Workers' Union is on strike, and the gas is slow.

Still bent on killing herself to teach her cheating husband and her unappreciative work colleagues a lesson, Enid catches a taxi to work and commences inching out onto the ledge outside her fifth floor office. She plans to scare everyone; she doesn't actually plan to jump. But within the next few minutes Enid has fallen five stories, to land safely on an awning and then on an innocent passerby. Did she jump... or was she pushed?

The remainder of this mystery/comic novel is a mish mash of subplots, with Enid fading off to the side as other employees of You take centre stage. No one liked the rude, autocratic Enid, and everyone seems to have had a motive for wanting her dead. Meanwhile the editor of You, Sam Egon, sees a scandalous scoop which could save his magazine. Whether it was suicide, murder or misadventure, they all sound delightful, and Egon can already taste a sales success.

While Enid is away recuperating, ballet dancer Rex from The Wooden Overcoat takes over her job, sending completely wrong advice to poor souls all over England. Mayhem ensues, with a large gang of unhappy people deciding to storm the You
offices. Then there's an escaped killer and an alcoholic crime reporter who gets himself stuck in the lift for days on end, simply to get the scoop on the possible suicide/murder/misadventure.

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