Mystery Writers Read by the Hoovers Part X

Two mystery novels, "Case for Mr. Fortune" and "The Museum Murder" are shown on a desk in front of a bookcase.

By Thomas F. Schwartz

We all have guilty pleasures in life. At the top of the list for Lou and Herbert Hoover was reading mysteries. As this blog series has shown, the Hoovers had no set preference for a specific mystery writer or genre. They read widely, absorbing everything that was available.

John T. McIntyre, who today is unknown as a mystery writer, was represented in the Camp Rapidan library by The Museum Murder. McIntyre worked as a freelance journalist in Philadelphia, wrote novels realistically depicting urban life of Irish Americans in the “City of Brotherly Love,” and wrote mysteries.

The Museum Murder is unusual in that it is the only murder mystery McIntyre wrote using as the main character Duddington Pell Chalmers, a young rotund man of wealth and refined tastes. Unlike the four previous mysteries using Ashton-Kirk, another upper-class detective like Philo Vance or Nick Charles, McIntyre creates a character that lacks the dashing good looks and athleticism often portrayed as upper-class sleuths. Chalmers is a person of habit, always aware of his stomach’s desires for food and cocktails.

As a trustee for a local art museum, Duddington is apprised by the police of the murder of a museum curator who was at odds with management. Among the list of suspects is an artist friend of Chalmers who is just at the outset of a promising career. Chalmers realizes that the police are on the wrong track, and he must move quickly to solve the murder. In the process, he uncovers other misdeeds including forged art objects complicating motives and suspects.

H.C. Bailey, a British newspaper critic and editorial writer, authored several short stories featuring Reggie Fortune, a detective with a medical background used by police to help solve cases. Bailey describes the case as cut and dry to the police, only to have Mr. Fortune perceive more sinister hands at work. Every death that appears to be from natural causes or self-inflicted is shown by Reggie Fortune to be an act of murder.

Bailey’s Case for Mr. Fortune is comprised of eight chapters, each being its own mystery. Unlike McIntyre’s Duddington Pell Chalmers, who uses logic and scientific method to solve a case, Bailey’s Reggie Fortune relies largely on intuition over scientific method, even though Fortune has a background as a medical surgeon.

In the first chapter, “The Greek Play,” Reggie is dragged by his wife to see her godchild who attends an exclusive girls school perform in the Greek drama Antigone. As Reggie describes the play:

“Oh, ah! She [Antigone] was told not to bury her brother because he died fighting against her city, and she went and did it. So the king shut her up in a tomb and she said it was hard she couldn’t have the life of other girls, but she’d done her duty and she hanged herself.”

This foreshadows what is to come. The young girl playing Antigone is one of the scholarship girls from a poor family, lacking the social status of her peers. After the play, she disappears from the party for the cast. Reggie, sensing something sinister is afoot, discovers the young girl hanging from a rafter and is just in time to save her from death. Her life hangs in the balance at the hospital. The police suspected no foul play, while Reggie goes on to prove it was attempted murder.

It is easy to see why The Museum Murder appealed to Lou and Herbert Hoover. Their world travels took them to some of the greatest museums showcasing the artifacts and artworks of many civilizations throughout history. The Case for Mr. Fortune while less developed with plot lines, offered bite-sized chapters that could easily be read in short bursts of leisure time.

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