I came to this book knowing nothing about Elizabeth Daly, but as it was a green Penguin it had to be worth a look. I feel terribly ashamed now that I’ve never heard of her, because having done a little research, she seems to have been regarded as quite a writer in her time and created a series of 16 books with her detective, Henry Gamadge.

Daly doesn’t even warrant an entry on Wikipedia (shocking!) but the very useful gadetection website has a nice entry about her here, from which I quote:

“Elizabeth Daly now seems sadly forgotten by many which a shame as all her books are superbly crafted and plotted, indeed she counted none other than Agatha Christie as one of her fans. She published sixteen books all of which featured her main series character Henry Gamadge. He is a bibliophile and expert on rare books and manuscripts which makes her books particularly appealing to fans of the bibliomystery.

Daly’s youthful fondness for games and puzzles led to a lifetime interest in detective fiction which she considered to be a high form of literary art. — Charles Shibuk

“Evidence of Things Seen” is the 5th in the series, and I rather wish I’d read these in order as I think some of the characters may have turned up in earlier novels. However, I don’t think this is essential to the plot, but it just appeals to the pedant in me! Anyway, this novel is set in America in the war years, and Cora, Henry Gamadge’s wife, has gone off to stay in a country cottage with some friends while awaiting Henry’s return from some unspecified war work. The friends are held up, and so Cora and maid Maggie are alone in an isolated, somewhat creepy cottage near some woods.

The book starts with them having regular sightings of a mysterious female in a purple and black dress and old fashioned sun bonnet who, each time they see her, is getting closer to the house. But they don’t know who she is or where she comes from. The owner of their cottage, the mysterious Miss Radford, had a sister who died a year ago and the suspicion is that this is her ghost. There is an accident and a murder and Cora is deemed by all to be guilty. It’s a good thing that Henry can return from his war work to try to sort all of this out!

I’m not going to say too much more about the plot because I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone – but it really is a remarkably good murder mystery! There are a great selection of characters – the Gamadge’s friends the Hunters, maid Maggie, Miss Radford’s awful heirs the Grobys, the local police force, Indian scout Eli – and some wonderful descriptions of the setting. The cottage, nearby waterfall, woods etc are all beautifully and vividly conjured up, and the book is genuinely scary in places – so much so that I felt uncomfortable after reading it late at night! The denouement took me by surprise and was beautifully handled – I hadn’t suspected the solution at all. Gamadge is a worthy detective and one of those who appear unprepossessing on the surface but is tough and analytical underneath.

I really enjoyed this novel and it’s made me determined to track down more of Elizabeth Daly’s books. Highly recommended for any fan of a good old-fashioned Golden Age murder mystery with some spooky bits thrown in!