Review of Death and Letters
Written by Elizabeth Daly
By Rhonda Valentine Dixon.
I began this book with much enthusiasm because I’d heard that Agatha Christie was a Daly fan.
Death and Letters is well written in terms of flow and syntax, however it is in early 20th Century American vernacular which means that I had to look up several phrases to assist my comprehension. For example, to me, an old-fashioned is a whisky glass, however the author considered an old-fashioned the drink itself. Evidently it can indeed be the glass with or without the beverage.
I had not heard the words ‘lighted a cigarette’, so I looked that phrase up. It was the most frequently used of the two past tense forms (lit and lighted are both correct) at the time Daly was writing. Hemingway was still using this form of the verb in 1933.
Death and Letters consisted of way too much dialogue and not enough description. We hardly saw any accounts of place or character. New peripheral characters kept popping up unexpectedly all over the place.
At the beginning of the book, the reader is told of a death that occurs before the action in the book takes place and a family member, the deceased’s wife, is blamed for the death and held prisoner by the rest of the family. She isn’t, in fact. the murderer. An unexpected murder takes place at the end of the book. It’s so unexpected, and so out of place that it’s implausible and anticlimactic. Did the same killer murder the previous family member?
I thought I was going to find a murder in the last two chapters. But they weren’t chapters to Death and Letters. They were chapters of subsequent Daly books.
The letters are love letters exchanged between a married member of the family and a famous poet. As with the death of the first family member and the subsequent imprisoning of his wife in order to avoid scandal, so too does the family seek to prevent scandal regarding the love affair. Different family members are paranoid about not muddying the waters and they’ll go to any length to prevent scandal. Their paranoia makes them unreasonable and unpleasant characters. I didn’t even warm to the main character, the crime investigator Henry Gamadge, whom one would expect to like since he was a respectable married man and an antique book aficionado.
I didn’t love this book. It didn’t grab my attention let alone keep it. Sometimes I read a mere page before falling asleep. I simply trundled along, book in hand, not absorbing much and anticipating it might get better. But it didn’t. I’ll have to read it again to determine who killed the first family member – or maybe I’ve simply for
Disappointing, uninspiring and forgettable. I may try another Elizabeth Daly, because some of my book club colleagues enjoyed the books they read, but I won’t be rushing out immediately to buy her work.