Cover art by C. Whitney Bender (I think).
Lavinia Davis is well loved by me for more than a dozen books she wrote about kids and animals, mostly horses. Davis wrote other kinds of things, including at least four mystery novels, which I’ve never tried until now.
Taffy Talbot, a fashion designer, arrives in the small coast town of Porto D’Orio in California to attend the wedding of her friend Lavendar Spar. The prospect of seeing Lavendar’s brother Michael again is a potential bonus, though he hasn’t been in touch for many years. The dangerous, winding canyon road up to the Spar house brings Taffy to a remote world where she will stay with another family, the Wingates, further up the road, and she soon begins to encounter the strange, sometimes frightening inhabitants of this place: an old man who seems quite mad, an artist down on his luck and his ambitious wife, and more. Elderly Mrs. Wingate is difficult, her son Hugo soon has a crush on her, and Michael, while friendly, is very busy with wedding preparations. The visit becomes a nightmare when the body of the artist’s wife is found at the bottom of the cliff below the Spar house, and Taffy is drawn into the drama and danger.
I’ve never been a fan of murder mysteries in general other than those about Sherlock Holmes, and this one did not change that opinion. The characters are interesting, but the story is so plot-driven and convoluted that none of them have much time to act like real people. The mystery itself was so deep I never caught on to any of the clues and barely got it when it was explained at the end. This may have been just the ticket for mystery fans in 1948, but I can’t say it makes me want to read the others. Oh well, worth a try, anyway.