Hasty Wedding / Mignon Eberhardt
NY: Sun Dial Press, 1943, c1938.
Dorcas is getting married in the morning to a family friend, Jevan. This is essentially an arranged marriage to keep up money and good society, so her last chance to do what she wants for herself is to visit her old flame Ronald before that morning comes. When she arrives at his modern and unsettling apartment they have an argument, with Ronald up to his usual jealous tantrums, and Dorcas struggles to flee from this dangerous situation.
But in the morning, they hear about Ronald's suicide. Dorcas goes through with her wedding, after being literally forced into her dress by Jevan. In a daze she gets married, only to have Jevan whisper to her, "I know you killed him" as they leave the church. But due to the law that spouses can't testify against each other, he believes he has protected her from prosecution.
It's a complicated story of relationships -- the mystery and the murder are key to the plot, but the heart of the book is Dorcas and her experience of both familial and marital relations. The detective solves the mystery off stage, so to speak, coming to interview them all separately but instead of following him on his rounds, the story follows Dorcas.
The bulk of the exposition of the story is all about Dorcas. She starts off as utterly passive, focused on her society rounds, and only finds her own feet after her marriage has settled in. When she begins to question why her friends and family are trying to protect her from a murder charge in the first place, things get interesting.
Jevan is a bit surprising as well. While he at first seems to be the typical overbearing rich and privileged man, some of his actions are explained later, and his motivations are quite unexpected. I found I rather liked this couple by the end.
It was very quick moving, suspenseful, and very much of its time. The social understandings that the mystery depends on are clear and obvious, and though some of the characters' actions seem unexpected or well, stupid, to readers today, they make sense in that context. (to a point -- this is a genre mystery so it does stretch believability a little).
But one of the things I love about old mysteries is the way they illuminate social norms of the past - for good or ill. I was glad that this one held up and was an enjoyable, entertaining read.