Life of the Party

"For in the long run, either through a lie, or through truth, people were bound to give themselves away..."
- Agatha Christie's After the Funeral (1953)
On February 19, 2011, I published a summary review of Pat McGerr's Pick Your Victim (1946) on this blog. It was the first serious review I wrote and have been babbling incessantly on here ever since. So after I was done remodeling and re-branding this place, I thought it would be a nice, symbolic touch to return to this criminally neglected mystery writer and dug one of her books out of my pile of unread books – and she did not disappoint! Without further ado, here’s the first new review on this new and (hopefully) improved blog:

"Oh my, Rocky has a few screws loose!"
Follow As the Night (1951; also published as Your Loving Victim) plunges straight into the story with its prologue, which, retrospectively, could also function as an epilogue – depicting the shape of a human silhouette falling from a balcony clinging to the exterior of one of the expensive, top-floor penthouse suits. The tenant is one Lawrence "Larry" Rock, a syndicated newspaper columnist and writer, who clawed a way from his roots, extending all the way down to the lowest strata of society, up to the nectar-filled blossoms of the upper class. But one of the women in his life has the power to undo all of his hard work and that put him in the mood for a killer party.

A poorly looked after, raggedly balcony provides Rock with a cover for murder and summons his four tormentors, women he used to get on in life, to come over for a party and this assemblage include his first and second wives, the red-head Shannon Moore and the gorgeous Claire Forrest, as well as his domineering mistress, the illustrator Maggie Lang, and his young and pregnant mistress Dee Inglesby – who also happens to be the daughter of his boss. There is, however, one snag: the reader is kept in the dark on whom of these four women is the intended victim until the final chapter, or, if you're observant enough, figure it out before you arrive there.

The pages between the prologue and solution are taken up, for the most part anyway, with flashbacks and memories that tell the story of Larry Rock and the four who were a part of an important period of that life – showing that McGerr's grasp on characterization had not weakened. However, Follow As the Night is not just another variation on her "who-will-be-done-in" gambit, which was her favorite ploy, but mixes a bit of suspense and turns this in a bit of a cat-and-mouse game when his ex-wife, Shannon, stumbles to his plans and stands guard over the other three women.

It's almost like a bizarre, inverted, game of clue, in which you possess the winning combination of cards that spell out the solution ("It was Larry Red Rock, on the balcony, with a loose guard rail...") without getting any nearer to the conclusion. You really have to reason from the given information to find that final piece of the puzzle before it's being given to you in the final chapter, which is what keeps her name ascending on my list of favorites. McGerr's take on the genre made the books I read not only a pleasure for a classicist like me, who appreciate a clever plot and fair-play clueing, but also to a contemporary audience whose preference goes to crime novels and thrillers.

Follow As the Night would also lend itself perfectly for a television drama. You could even set the story in modern times, and it would still work. That is, if such an adaptation would stay true to its source material, but that should go without saying. One last interesting thing I noticed about this book is that it sort of borrowed the backdrops of the previous two books I read. Pick Your Victim took place on the work floor, while The Seven Deadly Sisters (1948) was strictly a domestic affair. Follow As the Night combines the two as the four women in this book came into Rock's life through his work at the newspaper. 

But to sum it all up: Pat McGerr, simply the best at what she did!


  1. The book was very popular in France where it won the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and was made into a film starring Danielle Darrieux.
    McGerr is a criminally underrated writer; not only was she a true original but she mastered both plot and the human element. A revival is way overdue.

    1. Way, way, overdue! And her books are still good and fresh enough to be picked up by a big publishing house, but the Rue Morgue Press is more realistic and look what they did for Gladys Mitchell. So here's hoping.

  2. Extremely interesting. I haven't read this one - yet - but I've read a couple of other McGerrs which were excellent.

    1. "Excellent" and "brilliant" are almost standard responses to Pat McGerr when you drop her name to someone who's up on his GA classics and if you liked her other novels, you will like this one as well.