Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Malignant Heart

THE MALIGNANT HEART – Celestine Sibley (1958)

I love a good title and this is one is a cracker, especially when you know that the phrase comes from the Georgia Criminal Code’s statute regarding murder:  “Malice shall be implied…where all the circumstances show an abandoned and malignant heart.”  They don’t write legislation like that anymore.

No one likes Paula Reynolds, editor of women’s news at the Atlanta Searchlight, one of the south’s leading newspapers.  When she is found dead at the desk of her assistant, Katie Kincaid, suspicion immediately falls upon Katie.  She has reason to dislike Paula as she had insisted that Katie leave the pool of reporters (where Katie wrote about crime and murders) and help her in the women’s department, which focuses on recipes, gardening and social events.  Katie is not happy being relegated to this journalistic backwater, but is that reason enough to kill Paula?  Well, of course not.  Katie is the heroine, after all, and she’s narrating the action.  When a second murder occurs Katie vows to find the killer.

It’s surely a coincidence that during this challenge I’ve found myself reading a half-dozen mysteries in which the detecting is inadequate but the setting, the characters, and the writing still make the book worth reading.  Armstrong was a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution and so it’s no surprise that her depiction of life in the press room is full of the details which make it come alive for the reader.  I also enjoyed Armstrong’s insights into life in a sleepy southern city and the preoccupation of its inhabitants with social functions; it’s Opera Week in Atlanta and everyone is dressing up, having brunch at the country club and and reveling in cultural excess.  Finally, the book offers a peek at what constituted acceptable topics of interest to women:  fashion, gossip, flowers and creative uses of cake mixes.  No well-bred woman would exhibit the slightest interest in politics, business or sports.  I’d recommend this book and plan to read Armstrong’s others.

I read Sibley's book as part of Bev's Vintage Mystery Challenge, as an entry in the Golden Age Girls category.  I love this picture of Sibley in reporter mode:

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