Mabel Seeley was a mystery writer who published a few novels beginning in the late 1930’s through the early 1950’s. The Chuckling Fingers was first published in 1941. In it, the Heaton family (Minnesota lumber tycoons) experience some strange goings-on at their remote estate (called “Fiddler’s Fingers”) along the shore of Lake Superior.
Ann Gay has received a letter warning her that her cousin and friend, Jacquelin “Jacqui” Heaton, may be in danger. Jacqui is newly married to Bill Heaton and Ann wants to make sure everything is okay. Ann arrives to the Heaton estate to find tensions everywhere and minor, but irritating incidents occurring – acid has burned a hole in Bill’s suit, a bed has been set on fire, and even Ann is not able to escape the incidents as her robe is cut to ribbons. Jacqui, meanwhile, appears to be unstable and all the evidence to the incidents points right to her. But Ann suspects something else may be behind this.
I’m not a tremendous fan of mysteries from this period – perhaps that’s why it took me awhile to actually enjoy the genre – but overall I liked Seeley’s style. She created some great atmosphere and some fun characters to root for and to hate. I also found the format – the narrative from a relative outsider – to be intriguing and memorable. It may have helped that I read a large portion of this while sitting in a resort along Lake Superior myself, so I was deeply rooted in the setting.
However, my main problem with mysteries like this is the tendency to have an ending that comes essentially out of nowhere. The resolution is not something that we the reader have seen all along, but instead it’s a bit of sudden discovery and revelation that wraps it all up in a nice little bow. perhaps readers of the time expected and accepted this, but for modern readers, this is an uncomfortable jolt.
I’d never heard of Mable Seely before this, but based on the general style and writing, I’m glad that her work is seeing new light and hopefully finding a new audience. I look forward to reading more of her work.
Looking for a good book? The Chuckling Fingers by Mabel Seeley is classic 1940’s mystery fiction seeing a new light. It suffers from the period style of surprising the reader with new evidence to find the resolution, but is an enjoyable read.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Chuckling Fingers
author: Mabel Seeley
publisher: Berkley Books
paperback, 318 pages