Madame Storey by Hulbert Footner

Title: Madame Storey (Madame Storey #2)

Author: Hulbert Footner

First published in 1926

Genre: Golden Age Mystery

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Rating: 5 out of 5.

Madame Storey is the second book in Hulbert Footner’s Madame Storey Private Investigator series.

[Ref: Goodreads] Classic Woman P.I. Madame Rosika Storey was one of the most celebrated fictional female private investigators during the Golden Age of the mystery (1920-40) The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection calls her, “a stunningly beautiful young woman who describes herself as ‘a practical psychologist–specializing in the feminine.”

Set in New York, 1920s, this treasure trove of short stories is a must-read for GAD fans.

We have four short stories in this book:

  1. The Ashcomb Poor Case
  2. The Scrap of Lace
  3. The Smoke Bandit
  4. In the Round Room

Miss Bella Brickley’s curious when she comes across an advertisement: “WANTED – By a woman of affairs, a woman secretary; common sense is the prime requisite.” She goes to the place directly and sees many women waiting for their turn to be interviewed.

Women who obviously couldn’t do a thing in this living world had rushed there to give Madame Storey the benefit of their common sense.

After an hour, Madame Storey finally enters the room.

She was very tall and supremely graceful. It was impossible to think of legs in connexion with her movements. She floated into the room like a shape wafted on the breeze. She was darkly beautiful in the insolent style that causes plainer women to prim up their lips.

She wore an extraordinary gown, a taupe silk brocaded with a shadowy gold figure, made in long panels that exaggerated her height and slimness, unrelieved by any trimming whatsoever. On her head she wore an odd little hat of the same colour with an exquisite plume curled around the brim. All this was very well, but what made the women gasp was that snuggled in the hollow of her arm, she carried a black monkey dressed in a coat of Paddy green, and a foolscap hung with tiny gold bells.

Bella is in awe of Madame Storey and is quite excited when she’s picked as one of the finalists. The first two women who went to the interview come back teary-eyed and Bella does not know what to expect. But Bella has nothing to fear. She gets the job.

1. The Ashcomb Poor Case

Multimillionare financier Ashcomb Poor, a married man with a taste for high-living and women, is found dead (murdered) in his library. Most of the household were out that evening. Miss Phillipa Dean, Mrs. Poor’s secretary and Mrs. Batten, an aged housekeeper were the only ones at home when Mr. Poor was killed. But his body wasn’t discovered until Mrs. Poor came home from the party.

The next morning, when Miss Dean’s pistol is found at the crime scene, she confesses to killing Mr. Poor. But refuses to explain why she killed him and refuses her right to have an attorney. Assistant District Attorney Barron pays Madame Rosika Storey a visit.

Madame Storey insists on talking to Miss Dean. The suspect is brought to Madame Storey’s place. Rosika Storey does her best to make sure the young woman is comfortable. Though she does not reveal a lot about the murder itself, Madame Storey is convinced the girl is innocent – but, she’s hiding something.

The widow, Mrs. Poor pays Madame Storey an unannounced visit and so does the aged housekeeper Mrs. Batten. From what these two ladies have to say, Madame Storey comes to a conclusion. All the involved parties are called in and the identity of the perp is revealed.

The District Attorney is infatuated with Madame Storey and almost forces her to marry him – she needs a man in her life to control her. I found this quite amusing. Well, this story was written hundred years ago and times have changed (a bit). But full marks to the DA for trying to prove his worth. Lol!

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2. The Scrap of Lace

Teresa de Guion, one of the notable figures in New York life, comes to Madame Storey with a case. She took her secretary Louise Mayfield with her to Cariswoode, a Cruger country place near White Plains. (Ms. de Guion was a guest at the Crugers.)

The rest of the house were at a local party and Miss Mayfield did not join them as she had a dinner appointment with an old family friend. The next morning, one of the housekeepers found Miss Mayfield dead in her room – wearing a pretty dress and all decked up to go out. Seems like she was dead before she could visit her friends. The local doctor finds her death suspicious during post mortem – she died of asphyxiation.

Madame Storey and Bella ride with Ms. de Guion – the Crugers do not want to ruin their name by agreeing to a police investigation but they are okay to hire a P.I. As the duo reach, they learn of an engaged couple – the man had his eyes on Miss Mayfield. Then there is the question of family friend – the ones Miss Mayfield was supposed to meet. They never called when she failed to arrive. Seems like, Miss Mayfield lied to her employer about the family friend.

What has this murder mystery got to do with Lace. Well, you see, there was a handkerchief missing from the crime scene…

3: The Smoke Bandit

Many banks in the city of New York are haunted by a notorious bank robber. The robber chose his targets wisely – crowded banks. He dropped a smoke bomb before escaping with thousands of dollars in cash. Barron, the ex-assistant district attorney turned private investigator is looking into the case but the Banking Association wants a second opinion. Madame Storey is asked to help out as they feel a woman’s point of view might bring them one step closer to catching the Smoke Bandit.

But Barron – who has his eyes set on making Madame Storey his wife, whether she wants it or not – has taken Storey’s involvement as a challenge. Though he initially claimed otherwise, he talks to the media and boasts of ‘how close he is to solving the case’.

Well… this is a Madame Storey story so she must win the case, right? 😉

The Smoke Bandit is a favorite – the twist at the end was totally worth all the drama and tension, I tell you. I did not see it coming and neither did Bella.

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4: In the Round Room

Norbert Starr pays Madame Storey a visit. The Starr family is not new to dirty rumors and gossip. Norbert tells Rosika Storey about his wife Bessie. She is ten years older than him and his problems started soon after their wedding. Bessie was draining Norbert of his family money – and if that wasn’t enough, his mental and emotional strength was tested too. She disagreed to divorce him and continued to create problems in his life.

He’s now fallen in love with another woman and wants Madame Storey’s help – after all, she is a psychologist. That same evening, Bessie visits Madame Storey and warns her, telling her not to interfere in her life. Three days later, Madame Storey receives a call from Norbert – Bessie has killed herself. She had invited Norbert for a chat and things got a little heated. Norbert had just walked away when he heard a gunshot. When he returned to the room, Bessie was lying in a pool of blood, with a pistol in her hand.

Ira Anders, the county prosecutor of Middlesex, is called to the scene. He initially assumes it is a suicide case. But Madame Storey points out that the pistol in the victim’s hand was not discharged. Also, the victim was shot from behind. No way this was a suicide. Mr. Anders learns of the ongoing tension between the victim and her estranged husband. Starr is accused of the crime. But he says he is innocent.

This story had so many twists and turns. The identity of the killer and their reason for committing such a ghastly crime – chilling!


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