The Pattern Author:Mignon G. Eberhart The novel takes place on a lakeside resort outside of Chicago, where wealthy families keep rustic summer homes and boathouses on an adagio of islands nearby. There's a lot of rowboat, motorboat and canue action keeping them linked. Eberhart is superb at atmosphere and I could almost feel the loneliness of these pine-smelling islands and the crea... more »k of a pair of high heels mincing down a wooden pier at night. Half of her talent is describing silence and the other half, describing darkness, or so it sometimes seems. The novel reunites a pair of star-crossed sweethearts, Jerome Gable and Nan Bayne, whose engagement was broken three years ago by the machinations of an evil femme fatale, beautiful Celia, sort of the "Nofret" of the Midwest if you know your Death Comes as the End. Celia has since married Jerome and poor Nan hasn't been able to revisit the islands since, she just can't bear the heartbreak. A rabble of older friends has brought her out at last, and she hasn't been there even 24 hours before hunky Jerome tumbles back into her life and love brings them together once more. That night, Celia is brutally murdered, and her body is sent drifting out across the silent, spooky lake, in am untethered canoe. By some odd coincidence, Nan's boat actually collides with it. Next day comes and the obvious suspects in Celia's death are Nan and Jerome, who are hounded a suspicious constabulary and by the suspicions of their own friends.
We are mostly in Nan's head throughout the next week or so, though sometimes Eberhart cheats a little to tell us what Jerome is thinking, mostly vapid thoughts like, "He would die a thousand deaths rather than hurt his poor little Nan again." But, we get the picture that both are innocent. There's a handful of servants around, notably Celia's mercenary mini-Me of a maid, Marietta, and there are some gruff, if noble townspeople, but the other characters are mostly high society Tracy Lord and Addison DeWitt types that take a lot of distinguishing from each other. At the eleventh hour an actual hoodlum slash hitman enters the story, disrupting all the alibis, since Nan realizes that all you had to do to kill Celia was hire this guy, and you could be playing whist and bridge all night long with millionaires who would alibi you solidly, and you would still be at least morally guilty as the one who has been running from cabin to cabin placing large black widow spiders in Nan's heirloom slippers. I don't really remember this plot happening in any other GAD mystery (the hiring of a hitman by one of the main characters), and it's pretty well done here. I wonder why Eberhart never lets us see Celia (nor any of the other subsequent victims) in action before her death. We see plenty of her chicanery in retrospect, but never any real scene for her. To me, it would be sort of like having Linnet Ridgeway locked up in her stateroom, never allowed to interact with anyone, before we see her corpse in Poirot's arms.
I realized that the book could have been much much shorter, but Eberhart also has a mania for telling us who was where and when they left. Paragraph after paragraph will begin, "And then Maud left the party, beautiful Maud with her cunning green eyes and her monocle," or, "Frieda was the sixth to go, mysterious Frieda with the ivory neck and the keen sense of paradox. What was Frieda thinking as she stepped into the pony cart and gently nudged old Bessie with the poolcue?" Kind of slows things down when you have to see everybody arrive at a scene, one by one, and then you have to see `em all depart, especially when you know they're all going to get together in the very next chapter at the inquest or the brunch.
The Pattern? What is the pattern? I won't say how it all turns out, but believe me, Eberhart might as well have called this one, Spiders in Cold Cream Jars and it would still have been a spooky chiller of murder among the rich and the want to be rich.« less