The Mystery of the Cape Cod Players: An Asey Mayo Mystery

Image of The Mystery of the Cape Cod Players: An Asey Mayo Mystery (American Mystery Classics)
Release Date: 
April 2, 2024
American Mystery Classics
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“Perfect reading for a rainy day at the cottage, when nothing else will do but a charming and witty whodunit.”

Otto Penzler, the champion of classic American detective fiction, has added yet another gem to his series of noteworthy titles from the past. Following up on his reprinting of The Cape Cod Mystery (2022) by Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Penzler has republished The Mystery of the Cape Cod Players, Taylor’s third whodunit featuring amateur detective Asey Mayo.

Told from the point of view of Mrs. Victoria Ballard, a good-natured widow recovering from a bout of pneumonia, Asey is asked by the local police to assist in their investigation of a homicide at the Cape Cod cottage Vic has leased for the duration of her convalescence.

When a traveling road show turns up after dark while searching for their new client, Vic offers them shelter for the night. The next morning one of their group, a magician by the name of Red Gilpin, is found shot to death.

While each clue Asey uncovers seems to implicate a different member of the troupe, and while Vic simultaneously maintains a list of each suspect exonerated by subsequent evidence, Asey lives up to his reputation as a dogged sleuth who never gives up until the murderer is found.

Phoebe Atwood Taylor was a native Bostonian who specialized in local color novels set in Cape Cod and the surrounding area. She wrote 24 novels featuring Asey Mayo in addition to eight novels as Alice Tilton starring Shakespeare look-alike Leonidas Witherall, and the standalone Murder at the New York World’s Fair as Freeman Dana.

Her writing style is remarkably free and easy to read, light and veined with wry humor. For example, when Asey begins to question a possible suspect about his whereabouts on the night of the murder, Vic’s assistant Rose, who’s interested in the young man, “sat at the kitchen table and pretended to be entirely engrossed in a confession magazine. Her attitude would have been more convincing had her head or her eyes moved. But she stared long enough at one paragraph to have it implanted on her brain for life.”

While the story is Vic’s, told by her in a first-person narrative that reflects her urban background, the star of the show, of course, is Asey, “the Codfish Sherlock.” The quintessential New Englander, he complements the local setting and plays the part of an amateur detective with all the seriousness and focus of the great Holmes himself.

As Otto Penzler points out in his Introduction, “he relies on his profound, albeit practical, knowledge of human nature for his success as a sleuth. ‘Common sense’ has been the tobacco-chewing Mayo’s hallmark since his first episode.”

Twentieth century American crime fiction is a remarkably rich genre, and Otto Penzler’s focus on the middle decades has been instrumental in making sure that minor classics of the period are brought back into the spotlight—along with authors who would otherwise slip into obscurity, as often happens when generations of readers make way for generations to follow with other, newer authors who interest them.

Phoebe Atwood Taylor made her generation the gift of many light and entertaining mysteries, and thanks to Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series, other generations will have the chance to enjoy her work.

The Mystery of the Cape Cod Players is perfect reading for a rainy day at the cottage, when nothing else will do but a charming and witty whodunit.