Mystery Writers Read by the Hoovers Part IX: Doctors and Nurses

Four books are displayed upright on a desk inside of the research room at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

By Thomas F. Schwartz

Frederick G. Eberhard and Mignon G. Eberhart are not related but have a common connection.

Both wrote mysteries that featured doctors and nurses as the main characters. Little is known about Frederick G. Eberhard, other than he was a physician in real life and used his knowledge of science and human anatomy to enhance his writing. Mignon G. Eberhart was not a professional nurse, but her most popular character, Nurse Sarah Keate, was featured in the first five mystery novels and seven of her 59 mysteries. Mignon’s husband was an engineer, like Herbert Hoover, which took her all over the globe and provided time to pen her mysteries. She was influenced by Mary Robert Reinhart, a close Hoover associate and early popular mystery writer.

A book is displayed upright on a desk inside of the research room at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
The 13th Murder by Frederick G. Eberhard.

Eberhard’s first mystery, The 13th Murder, introduced a sadistic killer named “The Boner” who teases police with fingerprints and taunts them about his next victim. Unlike Taylor Swift’s embracing the number 13 as lucky, Eberhard uses it in the traditional sense of unlucky. A doctor claiming to have discovered a formula for reanimating the dead back to life is killed, but the killer claims he will use the formula to bring him back to life. The fingerprints left at the crime scenes seemed to be individuals who have previously died and could not have committed the crime unless revivified. Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein about reanimating dead tissue was experiencing a revival as a London play by Peggy Webling in the late 1920s and James Whale’s 1931 film of the same title was released the same year as Eberhard’s mystery. The reader is posed with the question of whether it is possible to revive the dead or simply a cleaver ruse to commit murder.

A book is displayed upright on a desk inside of the research room at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
The Mystery of Hunting’s End by Mignon G. Eberhart.

Eberhart’s The Mystery of Hunting’s End (1930) uses the classic setting of a dysfunctional family gathered in a remote ancestral lodge stranded by a severe snowstorm. Most of the characters had been at the lodge five years earlier when the head of the family, Huber Kingery, died. The family described the death as by “natural causes,” although they know Huber was shot by an unknown assailant. Two new members of the group are friends of Matil Kingery, Huber’s daughter, and Nurse Sarah Keate, who was hired to care for Lucy Kingery, Matil’s invalid aunt. Lance O’Leary, Matil’s friend, is a police detective working undercover to find the killer of Huber. O’Leary had been a patient of Keate’s years earlier that forged mutual admiration. Both are shrewd judges of human behavior with a keen eye for detail. Keate provides the necessary information for O’Leary to solve the mystery, although often unaware she holds the key to finding the killer. More family members die before the killer is unmasked.

A book is displayed upright on a desk inside of the research room at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
From This Dark Stairway by Mignon G. Eberhard.

From This Dark Stairway (1931) takes place in Melady Memorial Hospital where Nurse Sarah Keate works. Peter Melady, the wealthy businessman and founder of the hospital, is a patient awaiting surgery. A record heat wave is putting everyone on edge, and to save money, hallway lighting in the hospital is reduced creating shadowy passages. Dr. Harrigan, a brilliant surgeon at odds with Melady, schedules immediate surgery late at night. But Harrigan is found dead in the hospital elevator and Melady is nowhere to be found. Keate tries to make sense of all the events she witnessed the evening of the murder and subsequently of the suspects, many who work in the hospital. Detective Lance O’Leary is on holiday and Sargeant Lamb runs the investigation. He lacks social graces and insults everyone he interviews. Sarah works to unravel the mystery but finds more questions than answers. It is not until Lance O’Leary returns early from vacation that she is able to disclose everything she knows and O’Leary finds the killer.

A book is shown on a desk in the research room at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.
Murder by an Aristocrat by Mignon G. Eberhard.

In Murder by an Aristocrat (1932), Nurse Keate was caring for Bayard Thatcher at his estate. He was convalescing from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound. However, Bayard claimed that someone tried to kill him and would try again. Keate later discovers his dead body and the suspects at the estate know something sinister is afoot. All express a need for Keate’s medical expertise, and she quickly determines that no one wants her to leave since she has witnessed too many of the family secrets. Another murder occurs bringing Lance O’Leary to the estate to investigate, reuniting the detective duo.

Eberhard’s mystery explores a more violent and disturbed criminal mind. His plot is based on that of a serial killer that was rare in the annals of crime. Forensic science is an important plot device. Eberhart’s Nurse Keate provides a very descriptive narrative and elaborate character development. The murders are less sensational and bloody than Eberhard and more adaptable to movies for a popular audience. Ann Sheridan played Nurse Keate in two film adaptations of Eberhart’s mysteries although Hollywood changed Sarah Keate to Sally Keate. Five film adaptations of Eberhart’s mysteries were made during her life. None of Eberhard’s mysteries have yet to be made into a film or television movie.

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