Hand in the Glove features Dol Bonner, a young woman who has started her detective agency with the financial help of wealthy heiress Sylvia Raffray, who is on the cusp of taking over her family fortune. Her Guardian, P.L. Storrs, objects to Sylvia’s involvement in the detective business as it’s created some bad publicity. He persuades Sylvia to agree to quit the agency and her professional association with Dol which will essentially put Dol into a far less plush and favorable position.
However, Dol gets her first solo job when P.L. hires her to rid his family of a cult leader who is draining his wife financially. She heads to P.L.’s home in Connecticut with this goal, but everything changes when she finds P.L. strangled and hung up by a wire. Dol sets out to solve the murder of her friend’s ward and prove herself as a detective.
Nero Wolfe doesn’t appear in this story, but Inspector Cramer does make a cameo.
Bonner actually shares one key feature with Nero Wolfe: a contempt for the opposite sex, though her’s is not so severe as to prevent her from having men work for her or from being a caring sister. She also has a verbal feature in common with Wolfe: how she tells subordinates to take notes. When I read her saying to a male detective, “Your notebook…” I got deja vu. I wonder if this was intentional or if Stout couldn’t think any other way a detective might tell someone to take notes.
In other ways, they are mirror images. Wolfe an experienced late middle aged man and Bonner a young pretty woman feeling her way in the art of detection. While Wolfe remains reticent about his past and we only get tiny glimpses throughout the Corpus, Bonner tells straight up her backstory and why she thinks so little of men: she was jilted by one.
Bonner’s efforts to solve the case are met with sarcasm, annoyance, and amusement. A police officer smirks when he sees Bonner getting her detection kit out of the car and Sylvia tells her to put it away. Even Bonner’s not so sure of herself. She puts forth a strong front of absolute confidence, but she’s riddled with self-doubt. Is she really a detective or is she “just playing.” Thus Bonner mission is to prove herself to herself.
The story is weakened by a forgettable cast of 1930s stereotypes, the occult huckster, the heavy-drinking newsman, the dutiful butler, and the aloof bohemian poet daughter. Only the psychologist who is in need of a psychologist provides any spark and not enough of that. Sylvia Raffray fills the part of spoiled rich kid and is completely useless to Dol. While everyone seems to like her, it’s a mystery to me why they do.
Even with a stronger cast of supporting characters, it’s doubtful Bonner would have ever made it in a series. Her disrespect for men was unlike to make her popular with men or women. Plus, her uncertainty in the face of challenge is unlikely to connect with modern women in the age of girl power. Hand in the Glove is a serviceable 1930s mystery. What sets it apart from other 1930s mystery that are gathering dust in libraries across America is that it was written by one of America’s most talented mystery writers and featured a character who would go on to appear as a supporting character in one of the the greatest detective series ever.
I should also note that a TV adaptation of Hand in the Glove was produced by NBC in 1992 called Lady Against the Odds that featured Crystal Bernard (Wings) as Dol Bonner and is available on Netflix. The TV movie made a number of departures. The time period was changed to World War II (which is far more exciting to most viewers than 1937), rather than having the case confined to the estate as the book does, Dol travel back and forth questioning witnesses. It also changed the character of Dol Bonner and removed the man-hating elements. While there was a bit of melodrama and some things that didn’t ring true to the period, after reading the book, I think they probably did the best they could with it.
Rating: 2.75 out of 5.0.
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