In the Golden Box (1942) by Frances Crane, Jean Holly returns to her small town to care for an ailing relative.The town matriarch dies, and then it appears that a servant has hanged herself, although some think foul play is involved. As it so happens, a detective friend named Pat Abbott comes down to get to the bottom of what’s really going on.
The book is officially listed as the second in the Pat and Jean Abbott mysteries, although that’s a bit of a misnomer, as they’re not married in this book. However, it’s the earliest available book featuring the two I could find.
The book has one glaring problem – for most of its length, it’s very boring. The characters and locale are mostly just there, functional, and nondistinct.The dialogue is much the same, and it makes for a monotonous and tiresome read. Even the relationship between Jean and Pat isn’t all that interesting, and there’s no real hint of a romantic spark between the future married couple. I found myself thinking I’d rather read another Larry Kent book than this. Yes, the book I reviewed was a bad book, but at least it was bad in an interesting way. This book could have been livened up an exposition leprechaun popping up out of nowhere to cut a few dozen pages from this book.
The book does have a few good points. The mystery is slow getting started but is actually fairly good. Jean does have a few moments where her personality shines through, such as when she complains about how unattractive men who do the dishes are (hey, it was the 1940s), and Jean as narrator shares her thoughts on the mystery and helps to stimulate the reader’s interest as well.
Still, The Golden Box is a bit of a slog to get through. That said, I’m not entirely writing off the possibility of reading another novel in the series. This one feels a bit atypical. Jean being at home with her own extended family puts her clearly on the inside with all of the murder suspects and supporting characters, knowing them and integrating back into that world.It’s an awkward position for a secondary character/narrator in a mystery novel. I’d be curious how the characters would play in a less pedestrian setting, and after they’re married.
The Pat and Jean Abbott Mystery series went on for more than 20 novels and while none are classics, it’s hard to believe they were all this dull.
Rating: 2.25 out of 5