In 1940, author Elizabeth Daly published Unexpected Night, a mystery in the style of Golden Age Detective Fiction greats like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. It’s the first in her beloved Henry Gamadge Mysteries series, which has 16 books in total. The series follows Henry Gamadge, a handwriting expert and rare book dealer, who often finds himself tangled up in mysteries. If you’ve been looking for a new classic mystery to dive into, Unexpected Night could be your gateway into a whole series-worth of them. And it's a bibliomystery to boot!
A genuine gentleman sleuth, Gamadge uses his knowledge of books, manuscripts, and handwriting, as well as his general intellectual prowess, to solve mysteries. The series was published between 1940 and 1951, and along with enjoying several engaging whodunits, you’ll get to watch American society grow and change, practically in real-time. America’s involvement in World War II and its aftermath often impact the characters in Daly’s stories, and you really feel as though you’re experiencing history along with them.
Although Gamadge is usually based in New York, Unexpected Night finds him on vacation at a resort in coastal Maine. What is supposed to be a relaxing getaway proves to be anything but when a fellow guest, a young man plagued by illness who is set to inherit a vast fortune, suddenly dies. The police call in Gamadge for help, wondering if his death wasn’t so natural after all. But someone’s malicious motivations become clear when summer stock actors start dropping dead too.
Unexpected Night is a wonderful introduction to a classic series. In the excerpt below, Gamadge learns of the young man’s death and gets acquainted with the local detectives, beginning his investigation. Once you’ve read it, buy a copy for yourself to see just how this mystery plays out. But don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for Gamadge’s next adventure once you’re finished.
Read an excerpt from Unexpected Night by Elizabeth Daly below and then purchase the book!
Not Much of a Birthday
A violent knocking persuaded Gamadge to open his eyes. The room was flooded with sunshine. “All right, all right,” he muttered.
Waldo, the tall bellboy, put his head around the door. “I forgot to call, Mr. Gamadge. It’s nearly nine.”
“Good Lord, Macpherson will be raging.” Gamadge sat up annoyed. “What’s the idea, forgetting your calls?”
“We’re all upset. It don’t matter about Mr. Macpherson, he’s down at the cliff.”
“Down the road, on the lookout. Something terrible happened. One of the guests fell off the rocks.”
“That’s too bad. When? This morning?”
“Last night. Young feller that just checked in. Name’s Cowden.”
“Cowden!” Gamadge suddenly came awake. “Yes, sir.
They think he had a heart attack, and fell over the cliff.
Everybody’s down there. They just took the remains away.”
Gamadge, staring at the bellboy, swung one leg over the side of the bed. “What did he go down there for?”
“They don’t know.”
“Do they know when it happened?”
“Somebody said around two o’clock.”
Gamadge groaned. “Who found him?”
“One of the gypsies from the camp down in the grove. Kid named Stanley. He was out on the beach early, about seven, picking up driftwood and jelly seaweed before the beach cleaners got around. The body had a typewrittenname and address pinned inside the coat; case of accidents.”
“Of course. So somebody telephoned here?”
“They got hold of Mr. Sanderson—he’s a feller came with the Cowden party. He went and got the Barclays—they’re some relation of the feller that got killed. The sheriff sent a detective over, and he’s grilling Sam Leavitt.”
“I didn’t know the sheriff had a detective.”
“Some friend of his; state detective, or something. He wants to see you, Mr. Gamadge; that’s how I remembered about your call.”
“Thanks very much.” Gamadge swung the other leg to the floor. “Where is he?”
“Room 17—that’s the room the Cowden feller had.”
“You tell him I’ll be there as soon as I’ve had a swallow of coffee. Tell him I want to be grilled, too.” Waldo rushed away. Gamadge had a quick bath, pulled on his clothes, and went down to the dining-room. At 9:40 he knocked at the door of Number 17.
“Come in,” said a mild, slow voice. Gamadge entered, closed the door behind him, and looked down into the square face of a grey, stocky man who sat in a hard rocking chair. He wore a business suit, waistcoat and all, and black, shiny shoes. Sam was perched on a hard chair opposite him. He looked puzzled and upset, and he evidently needed sleep; otherwise, his grilling did not seem to have had serious effects on him.
“Mr. Gamadge,” he exclaimed, “ain’t this awful?”
“Yes, it is.”
“You just missed him. If you’d seen him, you might have felt the way I did, and gone after him, or something.”
“I might have.” He nodded to the grey man, who nodded in return. “I’m Mitchell,” he said.
“How do you do?” Gamadge’s eyes wandered around the small, neat room, which showed no signs of occupancy except a dressing gown and a pair of pyjamas lying on the bed, a closed suitcase on the floor, and a closed pigskin dressing case on the table. “Did they pull you out of bed, Sam?” he asked.
“No; I hadn’t gone to bed. I don’t get relieved till 7:30.”
“First-class witness, Leavitt is,” said Mitchell. “Mr. Gamadge: What about this cocoa?”
“Cocoa.” Gamadge’s eyes roved about the room again, and came back to Mitchell. “Cocoa?” he asked, with polite blankness.
“Sam Leavitt tells me the deceased had cocoa at Colonel Barclay’s cottage last night, and was sick afterwards.”
“Mis’ Cowden said so. She said he was sick coming up here in the car, an’ it must have been the cocoa.”
“I remember, now. Young Cowden and his sister had cocoa. The rest of us were accommodated with whisky.”
“His sister had some, did she?” Mitchell looked at Sam.
“Did it disagree with her, too?”
“Not as far as I could see. She was spry enough. Grabbed her little suitcase, jumped out of the car, and skipped right up the steps and into the lobby. She wasn’t sick.”
“How’d the boy act? Didn’t seem to be in pain, or anything?”
“He was fine, once the other feller got him out of the car. I thought first he was kind of weak, and I whistled Kimball up from the garage, so the feller wouldn’t have to leave him. But afterwards you wouldn’t have known he was sick, if it hadn’t been for his colour, and his hard breathin’. He come over to the desk, and looked up at the clock, and started jokin’ about it bein’ his birthday. Lively as anybody.”
“Well, thanks, Sam. That’s all for now. You go on to bed.”
Sam went; Gamadge sat down on the chair he had vacated, and lighted a cigarette. When he looked up,
Mitchell’s small blue eyes were on him.
“You know any of these people well, Mr. Gamadge?” he asked.
“I met the Cowdens last night, for the first time. The Barclays I know as summer acquaintances.” He added, “I don’t think there was anything the matter with their cocoa, Mitchell. I don’t think Mrs. Cowden meant that there was.”
“The boy being tired, and sick, anyway, it might have upset him. That the idea?”
“I think that was the idea.”
“Of course we have to have an inquest.” Mitchell spread out his hands, and contemplated his square fingers.
“I suppose you do.”
“Our medical examiner seems to think that the deceased died of this heart trouble he had.”
“And fell off the cliff during the attack?”
“Yes. We’d like to get hold of some kind of a working theory about why he went down there, in his condition, at that time of night.”
“That cigarette-case business certainly points to a planned affair.”
“I don’t think there’s any doubt but what it was. There seems to be some idea in the family that he was going for good.”
“Really? Going where?”
“Up to a place called Seal Cove, where they have a summer theatre. He has a cousin up there.”
“So he told me. He was interested in the place. But—”
“Sanderson tells me he was planning to go up to-day. You know he was having his twenty-first birthday?”
“Yes; I heard about that.”
“All of it?”
“If you mean the financial situation, the Barclays told me about it last night.”
“Not much of a birthday,” said Mitchell, again spreading his hands and examining the fingers.
“And he was looking forward to it, too.”
“Was, was he?”
“All kinds of plans. He was going to sign his will, today.”
“Is it, really? He put it in his pocket—I saw him; if that was the document he showed Fred Barclay.”
“If it ain’t there,” Mitchell jerked his head towards the pigskin dressing case; “it ain’t anywhere.”
“How very odd.”
“You’d think he’d take a thing like that case with him, if he was going off for good.”
“He wouldn’t have been able to carry anything, Mitchell. I know he’d never think of such a thing. But if he was going off for good, and didn’t want his family to know it, why did he struggle through that cigarette-case comedy with Sam, instead of quietly decamping by way of the fire escape? It’s only one flight down, and the dining-room and kitchens are at that end of the hotel. Not a soul would have seen him.”
“He might not have known about the fire escape; and even if he did, he had a good reason for not going that way.
He’d have had to pass his tutor’s room, his sister’s room, and his aunt’s room; and even if they were in bed, the transoms were open.”
“They were; I saw them.”
“And those people hadn’t hardly time to get to bed, much less to sleep. One squeak out of his shoes, or anything like that, and the trip was off.”
“So it was.”
“I’m going into all this, Mr. Gamadge, for two reasons. First, they think this cousin of his, Atwood, must have planned to drive down from the Cove, last night, and meet him at the cliff, and take him up there to that summer theatre. ‘The Old Pier Players’; that’s what the name is. Now, this Atwood hasn’t come forward; so I’m going up there to see him. If there was any kind of an accident, down on the rocks, he may not want to admit being there; but we found a folding cheque book in the boy’s pocket, and one of the cheques in it was made out to Atwood, and signed.
Made out for one hundred dollars. It was folded right back with the others, and anybody going through his pockets would be likely to miss it. Now, Colonel Barclay tells me you’re interested in handwriting, and ink, and so on, Mr. Gamadge.”
“I am; trouble is, the handwriting and ink I’m interested in is usually from one to two hundred years old.”
“Don’t say!” Mitchell looked disappointed. “My idea was that perhaps you could tell whether that cheque was made out last night. If it was, you could argue that the deceased meant to give it to Atwood, last night.”
“You could.” Gamadge looked round at the immaculate blotter on the desk, and the brand-new steel pen. Mitchell said:
“There ain’t a mark on that blotter, and no other blotter was in the room. He had a fountain pen—empty.”
“Oh. Well, Mitchell, there’s a faint, feeble possibility that I could tell you whether the ink on that cheque is Ocean House ink.”
Mitchell’s eye lighted.
“Don’t count on it. If I can, it will be a lucky break. And I have no materials here to work with.”
“I’ll get ’em for you from Portland. The other request I have to make is this: You saw all these people, Mr. Gamadge; and you’re the only person outside the family, except Sam, that did see ‘em. I’d like to hear what you thought of ’em.”
“That’s a long order, on such a short acquaintance, I can tell you more or less what I thought of the boy himself; he was very attractive.”
Mitchell raised his eyebrows. “Sam says he looked like a livin’ corpse.”
“His colour was startling, but otherwise he had a very attractive personality. His illness had warped him, I suppose; he was obviously spoiled; selfish, perhaps; selfindulgent; a trifle too used to having all the money in the outfit. But he had character. His illness hadn’t made him morbid, he wasn’t peevish, and he had (as you know already) physical and moral courage. I should say he was affectionate and generous to people he liked; and I should say he liked a good many people. I liked him, Mitchell. I hoped he’d get a little fun out of his money.”
There was a pause. Then Mitchell said, woodenly:
“Sheriff doesn’t like the job of asking these bereaved ladies questions.”
“No; very unpleasant. So he passed the buck to you.”
“I don’t like it any better than he does.”
“What questions do you want to ask them, anyway?”
Mitchell glanced at him, glanced out of the window, and said: “There’ll be a post mortem."
“What’s more, there’s a Doctor Ethelbert Baines in the hotel, and they say he’s a big man in New York.”
“He is. A very big man.”
“He’s a friend of the Cowdens. He’s going over to the Centre to check up on Cogswell’s findings.”
“You couldn’t have a better opinion.”
“He had to die sometime soon, they tell me,” continued Mitchell. “Nothing specially funny about his dying last night, after all he’d been through yesterday. He had a bad attack at Portsmouth.”
Gamadge surveyed him for some moments in silence.
Then, smiling faintly, he leaned back in his chair, stretched out his legs, gazed at the ceiling, and said reflectively; “What if they find some ante-mortem bruises? Or what if they don’t? Having some imagination, it worries you a little to consider how soon he died after coming into his money. You can’t help realising that if he had lived only a short time longer, he would have been living among new friends, spending his fortune on them, perhaps even getting married. You reflect morosely on the fact that his sister is his sole heir, since he doesn’t seem to have got that will signed and witnessed. Is she his sole heir, Mitchell?”
“Yes, she is. But I don’t—”
“You don’t feel like going into the next room and asking her if she pushed her brother off the cliff, last night. That would certainly have given him a fatal heart attack, wouldn’t it?”
Mitchell gave him a doubtful and grudging look. “I haven’t said any such thing.”
“So I had to say it for you. You want me to introduce you to these ladies?”
“I have to go easy.”
“Certainly. The approach will have to be indirect.”
“You mean you’ll do it?”
“Certainly I’ll do it. Why not?” Gamadge turned, and was about to pick up the telephone.
“Look out!” Mitchell started forward. “I have some fingerprint men coming down this afternoon.”
“Oh.” Gamadge picked the receiver up by its edge.
“That you, Wilks? Give me—no, wait a minute. Send one of the boys up, will you?” He said over his shoulder: “Mrs. Cowden may not be answering her telephone.”
“In a hurry, ain’t you?” Mitchell studied him curiously, as he replaced the receiver on its hook.
“I have to see Mrs. Barclay, and get up to the Cove.”
“I’ll drive you up, if you’re agreeable. I’d like to see the place. The poor little beggar asked me to go. I think I’d do well to accept his invitation.”
Peabody, the short bellboy, knocked and came in.
“Oh, Peabody,” said Gamadge. “Go to Mrs. Cowden’s door, will you, and ask her if she will speak to Mr. Gamadge on the telephone.”
“If she says she doesn’t know who I am, tell her I’m a friend of the Barclays. She met me there last night.”
Peabody walked solemnly down the hall, past the intervening room, to Number 21. They heard his knock, and a low-voiced conversation. He returned, his solemn face lighted by an unaccustomed smile.
“She says yes.”
“I don’t believe that everybody could have got me that interview, Peabody. I’ll remember it. Now go down and tell Wilks to put me on to Room 21. Tell him it’s all right, Mrs. Cowden expects the call.”
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