ELLIOT PAUL'S
WAYLAID IN BOSTON (1953)

by Arnold Goldman


Evans hasn’t returned to "his comfortable apartment in Paris." "[I]n the interests of science... to complete the nearly finished work of the murdered Dutch toxicologist" of the "Black Gardenia" case, he researches at the Arnold Arboretum "on the fashionable outskirts of Boston" and frequents his favorite city hotel, the Devonshire, on Commonwealth Avenue. One night in its Lantern Room his party, including Finke Maguire, Mirak Mirakian (a Boston Herald feature writer), Ephraim Poole (an accountant), Angus Ferguson (a wool importer), Leverett Bengay (a Brahmin gentleman), and Elbridge ("Edgy") Gerry (a bank messenger) - who excuses himself early - wagers whether Bengay, assisted by Mirakian can, like fictional private detectives, "follow a perfect stranger for forty-eight hours, and make a report that would satisfy" Evans. Evans will offer no help, his methods in any case being "usually inductive or deductive, based on established or obtainable facts." The male company is enhanced not by the still-unaccounted-for Miriam Leonard but by a solitary "woman in black," Solange de Lassigny, a French-Canadian department store owner, "who must have dropped from the starlit sky outside to the lonely bank of the Fenway, like the heroine in the play The Unknown Woman by Alexander Block." The black pianist, Morton (called "Jellyroll"), selects the unnamed and presumably unknown stranger to be followed, who is christened "Pointed Face."1

Within moments, Bengay loses his man, only to have him turn up again. Now, on the eve of a business trip to South America by ship, it is Ferguson’s turn to vanish, and Evans soon finds evidence of an assault in the hotel washroom, perhaps on Ferguson. When Pointed Face again disappears, Evans points Bengay to a house on nearby Newbury Street - an intervention which is strictly against the rules. Rueful about having drawn the sleuthing assignment, Bengay reflects that Homer had "proposed the bet... and maneuvered the others," leaving him to do the work. Moreover, keen on Solange, he suspects Maguire of cutting him out, with Homer’s connivance. ("Her heart thumped off the beat when she thought of Homer. The great man, the Topside Joss of mayhem and plot, had shown all too plainly that he was content to toss the Mademoiselle from Montreal... to his leg man, Finke Maguire.") Bengay tracks the "suspect" to his lodging and learns that he is Blaise Laneer, a Southerners quartered among a number of persons of Basque and Spanish extraction, and he senses some connection between both the pianist Morton and Laneer with one Erica Strella, a young Argentinian resident in the hotel.2

Bengay traces Laneer to his employer, the Pequot National Bank, where he looks after South American customers, and Mirakian follows Laneer to a medical clinic, establishing that he often visits the South American doctors and other clientele, including Julio Etchegaray, a La Prensa reporter. Joined by Finke and Solange, Mirakian sees one of the doctors pass Laneer "a sheaf of small oblong-shaped papers which looked like ordinary bank checks." Apparently co-incidentally, Ferguson has just left the clinic, having been treated for a minor head injury, and he eventually resurfaces, remaining close-mouthed over his recent history.3

Laneer is found dead in his room, "icepicked." Morton and Strella disappear into Boston’s "Negro district." Evans’s detective nose is, however, for the money, and he makes inquiries about Argentinian financial arrangements under the regime of the dictator Juan Peron. Finke wonders if Evans is trying to "expose

[Ferguson’s] business affairs"- though the Ferguson business remains a mere red herring: "A few short hours ago," says Evans ambiguously, "we had no profound interest in the late Blaise Laneer. Now... we can’t even be sure who, among our friends and acquaintances, is safe." Poole discovers that while Laneer hasn’t defrauded the Pequot, "the number of personal checks for small amounts which passed over his window shelf seems disproportionately large... dated several months back, too."4

Borrowing Edgy Gerry from the bank, ostensibly to help him with the toxicology research, Evans appreciates Mrs Gerry’s "paella bubbling its last ounces of liquid away, and an open casserole in which squid simmered in a sauce that was as black as India ink, and as redolent as a sorcerer’s ambrosia," learning that the recipe is her mother-in-law’s, a Basque. Dr Gonzalez from the clinic collapses and dies under Finke’s nose - "we continue to be careless. I should have suspected that Gonzalez was in danger," says Evans. The Boston police make difficulties, suspecting Maguire, then Morton (whom they capture). Solange, under orders from Evans, finds and takes Erica Strella to the Arboretum, where they are, however, kidnapped. Finke discovers and frees Solange only to receive the same treatment himself.5

Evans’s place in the plot has so far only been glancing, checking in and out. By way of partial exculpation, Paul notes that his "attention was divided, so that he was not doing full justice, either to his scientific research or the best interest of his friends." So the research must take a back seat. First, Evans rescues Finke, who captures one of his two assailants, discovered to be Etchegaray the reporter. Threatened with snakes, a common plot-element in Evans stories, Etchegaray reveals where Strella can be found. Evans now gathers everyone together at the Pequot National Bank for the closing revelations. Laneer had helped Strella, whose father was an opponent of Peron, to leave Argentina. The check-cashing system is explained:

"visiting Americans... are encouraged... to pay for their purchases with checks on United States banks.... The black-market exchange operators.... cash the... personal checks... at such a generous rate in pesos that the Argentine dealers make a larger profit than could be realized... at the legal ceiling for exchange. The black-market middlemen... sell them, at a large discount, to prospective travelers....
  "[E]very dollar that gets out of the country makes it harder for Peron to continue, and eventually his farcical economy will defeat him.

Etchegaray confesses to the murders, but Evans knows it is his cousin who killed Laneer, and the cousin is Edgy Gerry, an Etchegaray who had taken the "nearest" New England name to his own: "I’m really ashamed.... When a man leads a life as regular and restricted as mine, the least deviation leads to chaos and disruption." So ends the weakest Evans story yet, deficient in wit and humor, plot, character, and color. Even Homer Evans’s mind seems only half on the case. He had lost friends to mayhem in the past by not coming up to his own high standards but never before to his carelessness and inadvertence.6


NOTES

1 Elliot Paul, Waylaid in Boston (New York: Random House, 1953), 3, 14, 10, 14, 18.
2 Ibid., 54, 194.
3 Ibid., 97.
4 Ibid., 117, 194, 121, 149-50; also 200.
5 Ibid., 142, 171.
6 Ibid., 221, 261, 274. The most famous Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814) was a Revolutionary War patriot and politician, Governor of Massachusetts (1810-12) and Vice-President under James Madison (1813-1814). "Gerrymandering" was named after his manipulation of Massachusetts voting districts to favor his party: a contemporary cartoon of Essex County pictured it with the shape of a fabulous beast, the "gerrymander."


This analysis of Waylaid in Boston is taken from Arnold Goldman's biography-in-progress of Elliot Paul. Arnold Goldman 2001.

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