Monday, February 27, 2012

Mystery Mondays: W. Bolingbroke Johnson's The Widening Stain

From Mystery*File

When I was an undergraduate I had a student job in the Rare Books Room of Cornell University's Olin Library.  The staff was a delightful group of people, and I truly enjoyed working with them.  They had a touching custom of presenting every student employee with a copy of W. Bolingbroke Johnson's The Widening Stain upon graduation.  I still have my copy and have read it many times.  It not only brings back fond memories, it is also a very enjoyable read.  W. Bolingbroke Johnson is the pseudonym of Morris Bishop, a former provost at Cornell University as well as a respected scholar and popular humorist in his day, with a penchant for creating limericks.  Although he jokingly denied penning The Widening Stain, there is a copy of the novel in the Cornell library with a limerick inscribed by him reluctantly admitting authorship.

The story takes place on a university campus that bears a distinct resemblance to Cornell University.  Set in the 1940s, this novel provides a fascinating glimpse of university life during that time period.  The protagonist is a young library cataloger named Gilda Gorham.  When a beautiful female French professor dies in the stacks of her library, Gilda considers the death suspicious.  Then another body is found in the library, and this one is definitely murder.  Gilda investigates, putting herself in danger, but manages to trap the murderer in the end, and finds romance as well!  The tale is told with a bit of a humorous twist, and limericks are scattered throughout, which only adds to the enjoyment of this book.

Originally published in 1942, The Widening Stain was recently republished by the Rue Morgue Press (2007) under Morris Bishop's name.  Find yourself a copy to read -- you will be glad you did!

From Lake Country Books
   

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