The private hunting lodge of the Kingery family was called “Hunting’s End,” and it was located out in the middle of the desolate Sand Hills of Nebraska. It was certainly no place to be stuck in the middle of a howling blizzard, with no way to get out or to communicate with the outside world. And there was the added complication that one member of the gathering at Hunting’s End was a murderer – a person who, it was increasingly clear, would have no qualms about killing again.
Welcome to The Mystery of Hunting’s End, by Mignon G. Eberhart, a tremendously popular and prolific writer of mysteries and romances whose career ran from the 1920s through the 1980s. The Mystery of Hunting’s End, her third mystery, published in 1930, is the subject of today’s audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Five years ago, the owner of Hunting’s End, Huber Kingery, was shot and killed at Hunting’s End. The people who were present at the time, members of the Kingery family and other friends, managed to cover up the murder. But Kingery’s daughter, Matil, wants the killer uncovered. So, on the fifth anniversary of the murder, she has invited all of the guests who were present at the time to come back to the lodge. Unknown to the guests, who rather grudgingly agree to return to the lodge, Matil also invites Lance O’Leary, a private detective, to join the guests. And, at O’Leary’s suggestion, Matil hires Nurse Sarah Keate to look after Matil’s elderly Aunt Lucy Kingery, an unpleasant old woman. O’Leary and Nurse Keate have worked together before – or, more accurately, have both been involved doing secret investigative work, usually at least nominally on the same side.
But on the very first day that everyone arrives at the lodge, a November blizzard blows in and completely isolates Hunting’s End from any possible contact with the outside world for several days. The people at the lodge very quickly come to realize that they are trapped there – and that, if Matil is correct in her insistence that her father was murdered, one of them must be the killer and will undoubtedly not hesitate to kill again to protect his or her secret.
Mignon Eberhart manages to give her readers a real sense of the near-panic and claustrophobia among the guests at Hunting’s End, all of whom know each other – but do not like each other. Some of this, to be sure, is in the “had I but known” viewpoint which we are offered repeatedly, but it’s also in the keen observations of our narrator, Nurse Keate.
Nurse Keate is certainly among the “Had I But Known” school of narrators, popularized by such writers as Mary Roberts Rinehart, and there’s a great deal of narration along the line of, had I but known the horrors that awaited us behind those locked doors, I would never have gone there alone in the middle of the night. That sense of foreboding was a strong suit for Mignon G. Eberhart as well. Her characters are quite well-defined – and many of them are quite unpleasant. As our narrator tells us, at one point:
It was quite natural, I suppose…that the little cloaks of conventionalities to which we had clung so desperately during the preceding days and nights should finally and completely escape our clutches and vanish. I have never before or since that time seen men and women in their primitive, selfish state, and I never wish to again, for it is singularly disillusioning. Our treasured little masks of customs and behavior were gone entirely, and the sight of what was left was not pretty.
The Mystery of Hunting’s End is an enjoyable and thought-provoking mystery. It’s available in a trade paperback edition from Bison Books, with an introduction by editor, Jay Fultz, who notes that Eberhart was able to create “an atmosphere of all-encompassing dread, a polished style that barely puts the lid on the underlying barbarism of some social sophisticates.” I think you’ll like the book.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader’s Block blog, The Mystery of Hunting’s End is my entry for the square (second row, sixth column) calling for one book with a place in the title.