Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Innocent Flower

This is the third and last of the MacDougal Duff mysteries, published in 1945. This series was Armstrong’s first venture into mystery novels after a less than stellar career in penning stage plays, her first love. The titles of this series all came from Shakespeare ( "look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it." Macbeth, act 1, scene 5). The other titles in the series were Lay on, MacDuff, and The Weird Sisters. Armstrong was a big fan of the bard and studied his work extensively, trying to solve the mystery of who really wrote the complete works.

MacDuff was a retired college professor who dabbled in solving real-life murders, often as a volunteer consultant to local police. Armstrong’s children loved this book because three of the child characters were loosely modeled on them. They often challenged friends to read the book and decide which character was each of them. It wasn’t hard. The plot was around a divorcee with six children where suddenly a friend dropped dead from poison. The children were all suspects at one time or another.

They also loved this story because the location was basically their house in New Rochelle, NY.

Armstrong surely loved writing this story because of these factors, but the real intention was to continue the series where each succeeding book would feature one of the six kids. However, due to less than robust sales, her agent advised switching to the suspense genre, and, starting with The Unsuspected (see post of December 5, 2021), the advice turned out to be excellent as that story launched her career.

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