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by Michael Kilian
Berkeley, June 2002
272 pages
ISBN: 0425185826

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I'm getting fussier, that's all there is to it. I had tried reading another book by this author a couple of years ago, with no success, but at least I tried again. But I had no better luck with this book.

The sub-heading of this mystery is "A Jazz Age Mystery". While there are many names (Edna St. Vincent Millay, Hemingway, Edmund Wilson) dropped and many historical citations - it's prohibition and a bottle of whiskey costs $6 at a hotel - $1 for the bottle, $5 for the guy bringing it to you - I never got into the period the book is set in, and I'm not sure why. About halfway through The Uninvited Countess, I realized that the book simply did not feel historical to me. The situation could have been set in modern day - even though there were several Vanderbilts with all their money, and revolutions and espionage hinted at, it could have been a few years ago, and skip the booze. Once I realized that, the book lost its interest for me and I had a difficult time finishing it.

Bedford Green, a former pilot in The Great War, is a sort of dilettante - a former reporter, he now owns a Greenwich Village art gallery, ably assisted by Sloane Smith, who seems to make far more sales of actual art for her boss than the man himself. He's asked by a Vanderbilt to look into the affairs of a mysterious "Countess Zala", a Hungarian living apparently in New York. However, when he shows up at the Vanderbilt home (after picking the wrong "cottage" in Newport first) the lady brushes him off and says no, she really didn't mean it. Then, during a soiree over the weekend, a body comes ashore. Is it the countess?

Bedford is obsessed, trying to learn why the woman died, without really having a good reason. Only days into his investigation does anyone actually offer payment, and even then, it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense - one of those problems with the amateur detective's motivation that we read in so many mysteries. The police kowtow to the wealthy people and declare a fairly obvious murder as an accidental drowning. But Bedford, who is juggling the attentions of at least two, maybe three women, including one who's mad at him (although we never learn why), borrows fancy Packard cars and drives all over searching for information.

I could not get interested in the search; I thought the book needed better editing for it seemed we covered every road in town, and often the facts of the case were repeated in detail. The woman is indeed a mystery, has more than one name, and at times it seems people dowant to know who she is and at other times, they want the whole idea dropped. Alas, I got bored and ended up not caring who she was, why she was killed.

Green is a fairly interesting guy, with fingers in a large number of pies - he knows gangsters and actresses, poets and writers, cops and villains, but his story was not told well enough to keep me interested. Kilian probably did his research well, but there was simply something lacking in his 1920s for me to stick around.

Reviewed by Andi Shechter, May 2002

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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