Saturday, June 02, 2007

The Gift Horse - Mary McMullen

First published 1985; cover shown is the 1986 Jove (US) paperback edition. Cover art by Sally Vitsky. 152 pages.

30-year-old Darrell Hyde is the black sheep of his wealthy family. Drifting from odd job to odd job, through various states of America, he more often than not has to visit one of his family members to ask for money. When he discovers that they have made a pact to stop financing his drifter lifestyle, he turns to his only remaining hope: Aunt Lally.

Lally, an aunt by marriage, is now in her seventies, and Darrell knows he is her only heir. When he arrives at her country home he is already pricing the land, researching rental prices, and plotting her murder.

Lally is no fragile old lady however, and she realises that Darrell needs to be reminded of the important things in life. She sets about forcing him to find a job and smarten up his image. In a short time Darrell finds himself thinking less of killing his aunt, and more of his rediscovered urge to sculpt - and to become closer to Lydia, the girl next door.

Of course, this is a murder mystery, so just when the reader has started liking the plucky Lally, someone promptly strangles her. This doesn't happen until page 117, leaving just 35 pages for the killer to be unmasked and brought to justice. Darrell, as Lally's sole heir, is the prime suspect, and when he sets about clearing his name he discovers a dirty little secret about Lydia's father... and that Lally visited the house of a murder victim just hours before she died.

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