Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Lady Chesterliegh and the King of Swords by Susan Brassfield Cogan

Lady Chesterleigh and the King of Swords” by Susan Brassfield Cogan, Mysterical-e, March 2005

This story takes place in 1935 San Francisco. Lacy Chesterleigh is kidnapped by a couple of toughs and taken to see a local crime lord called the King of Swords. He is called that due to his propensity for using a sword to relieve his enemies of their heads.

Lady Chesterleigh is not a hothouse flower. She is tough, hardy and not easily intimidated. She has worked closely with the police in the past.

The King of Swords wants Lady Chesterleigh to use her influence with one Inspector Monahan to get his son released from custody. In a raid the night before the police found the King’s son unconscious with his pockets full of opium. He has her write a note to Monahan on pain of beheading. Once she has finished, the King sends one of his henchmen to deliver the note to Monahan.

Now that he has seen to the release of his son, he thinks, he turns his mind to finding the identity of the person or persons who framed his son. He does this by consulting an old crone who reads the Tarot cards. Apparently this isn’t the first time he has utilized her services.

The crone reads the cards and implicates two young men who are part of a triumvirate of friends. The King interprets this to mean his son’s two constant companions.

Lady Chesterliegh has some knowledge of Tarot, enough to see that the old crone is telling a story of her own making and not reading the cards she lays down. Questioning her about the cards, she leads into a question about the crone’s children. It seems she had a grandson that was murdered. She says that his murderer is in prison and will not long survive.

Along with the questions about the cards this tale of woe leads the King to conclude that his son’s betrayer stands before him. Can Lady Chesterleigh save the crone and herself as well?

I enjoyed this story more than I thought I would. It isn’t quite a cozy (there is some graphic violence), but it isn’t hardboiled either. I liked the main character and wouldn’t mind reading more of her adventures.

The tone of the story, the voice, is very much like what you would expect for the time period, and therein lie my two quibbles. One was the use of the phrase “good buddies”. That seemed anachronistic for 1935. Maybe it was just my exposure to the CB culture, but probably not.

The other was the reaction of one of the characters to being shot in the arm. I can’t go into much detail without giving away the ending, but that reaction may have been consistent with a Golden Age story, however in this day and age it just won’t fly. It put a bad ending on a good story. If Ms. Cogan insists on depicting violence, she must become familiar with the effects of violence.

In short, closer attention to detail might make Lady Chesterliegh one of my more favored characters.


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