Author: E. E. Smith

Publisher: Phoenix International, Inc.

ISBN-13: 978-0-9899356-0-9

In the late 1940s, in Sacramento, California, Alice Smith launches her business as Alexis J. Smith, advertising “Discreet Inquiries.” She is struggling to pay bills when an old high school friend (Class of ’41) drops in to ask if she would take a case. Kate Faraday wants the young investigator to find her husband, who has abandoned her for England, and do away with him. Frank just happens to be the handsome athlete young Alice loved from afar. She is appalled, and doesn’t quite trust the expensively-dressed classmate who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. But, looking at the alternatives – let another detective go after Frank – she accepts the generous check and buys a plane ticket, intending to save him.

The author gives the story a solid historical foundation with details of World War II detail, e.g., the internment of American Japanese. She gets across the relative strain of a post-war economy, and also seems to know her guns. He character Alice is believable, a war widow free now to have a career. She had to disguise herself as male to get into the right college classes (law enforcement), but she is prepared for a dangerous occupation with her father’s advice: “Trust everyone, but cut the cards.”

E.E. Smith has spent some time learning English history. She sets the stage in a real Norman church in Norfolk and a legendary ghost; and introduces us to Scotland Yard as it was. Policemen were not (and still are not) allowed to carry firearms under normal circumstances. Alexis remarks on the differences between British and American English, lorries for trucks and so forth, which may seem a bit intrusive, but it rings true for a young woman in 1947, before worldwide television broadcasting and the jet set gave Americans the exposure to England that we have today.

In fact, Smith has captured the innocence of the generation very well, even in the romantic notions women had about men and men about women. She injects some psychology, but it’s not very involving. The mystery is interesting but an odd mix, under the influence of both West Coast noir and the English Cozy. I am almost tempted to call it “soft noir,” but it’s not really scary. That said, it is worth a read, so packed with thought-provoking details. Also, E. E. Smith is a model writer and especially clever about the difficult things mystery novelists have to do, such as give just the right amount of backstory and wrap it up neatly at the end. I credit that to the fact the author is an award-winning playwright. Add to that the quality of the paperback edition: heavy stock, large type. Someone has optimistically envisioned an audience of her peers. Evelyn Eileen Smith is now in her 80s. I am almost that old, and I recommend the book to anyone our age or younger who has a couple of hours to invest in learning both modern history and literary form

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