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Murder at the Margin

Murder at the Margin: A Henry Spearman Mystery

MARSHALL JEVONS
Copyright Date: 1993
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7sfh5
Pages: 228
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7sfh5
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  • Book Info
    Murder at the Margin
    Book Description:

    Cinnamon Bay Plantation on lush, tropical St. John was the ideal Caribbean island getaway: Or so it seemed. But for distinguished Harvard economist Henry Spearman, long overdue for R & R, it offered diversion of a decidedly different sort and one he'd hardly anticipated: murder.

    It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. Prickly and priggish, Gen. Hudson T. Decker (Ret.) might have been a Cinnamon Bay regular, but he'd managed to alienate fellow guests and a lot of townspeople over the years. Suddenly, before the local inspector has assembled a suspect list, there is a mysterious drowning and a second murder, this time a former U.S. Supreme Court justice. Prime suspects abound: a liberal professor of divinity, a vengeful wife, an alleged girlfriend, and a handful of angry local activists.

    While the island police force is mired in an investigation that leads everywhere and nowhere, the diminutive, balding Spearman, who likes nothing better than to train his curiosity on human behavior, conducts an investigation of his own, one governed by rather different laws--those of economics. Theorizing, hypothesizing, Spearman sets himself on the trail of the killer as it twists from the postcard-perfect beaches and manicured lawns of a premier resort to the bustling old port of Charlotte Amalie to the densely forested hiking trails with their perilous drops to a barren, deserted cay offshore.

    Now available in a new critical edition, Marshall Jevons'sMurder at the Marginwas first published in 1978, when it marked the debut of Henry Spearman. Spearman relies on economic thinking to solve crimes--a distinction that places him in the pantheon of such fictional investigators as Father Brown, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and Rabbi Small.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2112-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. FOREWORD Murder at the Margin
    (pp. vii-2)
    Herbert Stein

    Every great detective has his or her milieu. For Sherlock Holmes it is the dingy streets and stately mansions of Edwardian England. For Miss Marple it is a British country village. For Inspector Maigret it is the boulevards of Paris. Such detectives know not only the geography of these places, they know the institutions and the people as well. They understand how things work in their milieu and how people behave there.

    Henry Spearman, the detective-hero ofMurder at the Margin, has a different kind of milieu, one not confined to any particular time or space. His milieu is inside...

  2. 1
    (pp. 3-10)

    “Now you can see why a parrot could be a passably good economist. Simply teach it to answer ‘supply and demand’ to every question!” Professor Henry Spearman chuckled as he helped his buxom wife Pidge settle onto the cushioned bench of the power launch. He had just explained to her the price of their taxicab with a supply and demand illustration. The six-dollar fare had taken them and their luggage from the Charlotte Amalie airport to the Red Hook landing on the other side of St. Thomas. Now they were on the last leg of their journey. The boat they...

  3. 2
    (pp. 11-18)

    Cinnamon Bay Plantation had long been considered by hotel connoisseurs to be one of the world’s finest. It was situated on the site of an old sugar plantation, the ruins of which still stood on a hillside overlooking the property. The hotel’s several hundred acres included carefully landscaped grounds and gardens as well as hiking trails through dense natural foliage overlooking spectacular views of St. John and the neighboring cays.

    By the time the Spearmans had registered and been taken to their cottage, it was late afternoon, and so they had only a small taste of this beauty on the...

  4. 3
    (pp. 19-25)

    Celebrities were nothing new to Cinnamon Bay. In fact, presidents, kings, and movie stars regularly took advantage of the salubrious effects of its atmosphere. Even so, the arrival of Curtis Foote caused some stirring among the help and guests, in particular those of the fairer sex. He was the type the liquor advertisements might picture as a man of distinction. Lightly graying sideburns framed a thatch of coal black hair which he wore straight back from his forehead. His clear dark eyes and square, dimpled chin gave him the appearance of the young Cary Grant. Women were attracted to him...

  5. 4
    (pp. 26-35)

    General Decker, so it was said by the help, was a troublesome man. He always wanted things just so and woe betide the waiter who brought him eggs boiled a few seconds longer or shorter than he had specified. As a general he had become accustomed to having his orders followed, and he expected no less meticulous attention from those who now served him in civilian life.

    For Decker breakfast was a major production. His table was situated in the east corner of the dining room because there, he maintained, the lighting was best. This assisted him in scrutinizing each...

  6. 5
    (pp. 36-40)

    The sun can be especially hazardous for bald-headed men. The Virgin Island sun even more so. For this reason Henry Spearman emerged from his cottage wearing a visored golf cap and proceeded in the direction of the beach. The early morning sun was already far more intense than the noonday sun of New England. A newcomer to the hotel had to be especially careful to avoid a painful burn and guests were cautioned to take only a little sun their first day out.

    Spearman was determined to have a tan when he returned to Boston. But before settling into that...

  7. 6
    (pp. 41-48)

    Detective Vincent knew that Walter Wyatt, the manager of Cinnamon Bay Plantation, resented his presence. Tourism in the Islands was already in a state of decline. But Vincent had a job to do, and the thin, balding police officer seemed determined to do it. His eyes stared resolutely into Wyatt’s as he said, “I am aware that your guests haven’t come to Cinnamon to be interrogated. But a murder has been committed here. And I have to assume that the murderer either was or still is at your hotel.”

    “I understand that, but I trust you will be as discreet...

  8. 7
    (pp. 49-57)

    Ricky LeMans’s Reputation as a versatile musician and as a craftsman had been exceeded only by his growing fame among the islanders as a cunning and resourceful politician. The hotel brought him and his band to entertain the guests knowing full well that LeMans was a black power advocate. Apart from purchasing his musical skills, they also hoped to co-opt the talented young radical. Paying him lucrative fees to entertain the guests, the manager thought, might make LeMans more agreeable to coexistence with the white power structure. Besides, his band was good, one of the best in the islands. The...

  9. 8
    (pp. 58-75)

    The aroma of bay rum wafted into the open-air pavilion which served as the nightclub for Cinnamon Bay. The fragrance of tropic gardenias mixed with the expensive perfumes of the guests. Ricky LeMans and his band had already begun to play before the room was filled. Strains of “Marianne” poured forth as the hotel guests drifted in for the evening’s entertainment.

    Inspector Vincent was at the hotel this evening. He had decided that Aberfield, his counterpart on the force at Charlotte Amalie, would give close and continuing observation to the scene of the crime. And he, Vincent, would do no...

  10. 9
    (pp. 76-83)

    The narrow winding streets of Charlotte Amalie reflected the city’s past. Architecturally not much had changed since pirates dropped anchor in the harbor, slave traders engaged in their sale of human cargo, and Danish plantation owners exported the sugar cane, which they called white gold. The character of the town had been maintained in its old churches, fortifications, and government houses. Dronningens Gade was the main shopping street in Charlotte Amalie. Many of the shops along Dronningens Gade were located in old warehouses left over from the days when the town became known as “the emporium of the West Indies.”...

  11. 10
    (pp. 84-94)

    Spearman showed up early at the hotel dock to rent some fins. He had decided to explore around some of the points bordering Turtle Bay and had been advised to wear fins to protect against swift currents. His swimwear that day was typical of what continentals took to be stylish attire for the Caribbean. But actually his garb was more fitting for Hawaii. On his five-foot-three physique his swimsuit gave the appearance of baggy bermudas.

    The equipment steward was occupied in preparing aqualungs for the hotel’s more adventuresome guests, who used them to explore the outlying coral reefs. Hearing Spearman...

  12. 11
    (pp. 95-110)

    Laura Burk twisted the point of the broad-bladed implement into the crevice of a rock. The pressure she exerted on the blade began to bend the tool’s shank. It was early afternoon and very hot on the Hawksnest Point trail. Her khaki shirt was soaked with moisture, and the perspiration from her brow blurred her vision momentarily. Retrieving a towel from her bag she wiped her face. Even the grounds crew at the hotel did not work during this part of the day, but Miss Burk, who appeared to have the strength of a man, was determined.

    Rummaging around in...

  13. 12
    (pp. 111-138)

    Saturday night was a special occasion at Cinnamon Bay Plantation. The bar did little business then, for the manager of the hotel hosted all of the guests at an elaborate party atop the ruins of the old sugar mill, which had been converted into an open air pavilion. A large, conical roof was positioned on supporting pillars in the center of the pavilion so that visitors were afforded an unobstructed view in all directions of the grounds, bays, and nearby mountains.

    As soon as a guest walked up the ramp to the pavilion, he was greeted by the manager and...

  14. 13
    (pp. 139-150)

    Franklin Vincent entered the front door of the Cruz Bay police station. He had just returned from Cinnamon Bay Plantation with the intention of studying the large leather volume and the photograph he had procured from Mrs. Foote. As soon as he entered the building, the desk sergeant said to him, “Mr. Osborne up on Gallows Point called this morning. He says somebody stole his spinnaker last night—from right off his boat. He’s hoppin’ mad about it and wants us to get it back immediately.”

    “Naturally Osborne would expect it back right away,” Vincent said testily. “Did you tell...

  15. 14
    (pp. 151-164)

    The news of the confessions of LeMans and Harbley lifted the pall that had enshrouded the hotel. Many of the guests did not want to show how concerned, even frightened, they had been by the tragic events that had taken place during their stay. But the glib facade they donned only served to accentuate the great feeling of relief they actually shared. That morning there was much goodnatured banter as a number of the guests were gathering at the hotel’s open-air foyer in front of the entrance to the dining room. This group was waiting for the arrival of the...

  16. 15
    (pp. 165-173)

    Henry Spearman had returned to his room following the confrontation with the Clarks. He relaxed somewhat, since an intellectual puzzle had fallen into place. The actions of the Clarks when confronted with the package were consistent with an earlier hypothesis he had formulated about them, and that fact cheered him considerably. He decided that he wanted to enjoy the afternoon air after experiencing what he considered to be a minor triumph. But there were still matters that weighed on his mind, and he was now encouraged to go on pushing his economics into criminology. Spearman took his folded list from...

  17. 16
    (pp. 174-184)

    “Now you see, Pidge, seventy cents for a fifteen-cent item is a perfect example of monopolistic pricing. The hotel is the only place on the island where out-of-town newspapers are available. The management is aware of this and, in maximizing profits, prices its merchandise accordingly.”

    The Spearmans were about to purchase their copy of theNew York Timesat the hotel’s gift shop prior to having their breakfast. Ahead of them in line were two women wearing bathing shifts. One of them, a plump, middleaged woman, was exclaiming in a loud voice: “I know it’s time to go to breakfast,...

  18. 17
    (pp. 185-198)

    Standing before them, a grizzled beard all but hiding his surly features, was the person who had allegedly drowned. He looked different. He was no longer dressed in white, and his khaki clothes were tattered and soiled. His panama hat was gone and he had exchanged his white shoes for a pair of hiking boots. One might have mistaken him for an island beachcomber, but there was no mistaking the bulldog jaw.

    “You know, you’re a real piece of work,” Fitzhugh said. “Since I seem to have stymied the police, I would have thought I could fool a Harvard professor....

  19. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 199-208)
    Marshall Jevons

    Why would two mainstream economists experiment with the detective novel genre as a vehicle for presenting their ideas? This is a personal account of the history ofMurder at the Margin: the genesis of our economist-sleuth, the writing of his first adventure, our search for a publisher, and some consequences of the book’s appearance. For objectivity and convenience, the story is told in the third person.

    To William Breit and Kenneth G. Elzinga, it seems only yesterday that they sat down to write the first Spearman adventure. They had been vacationing at a posh hotel (during off-season rates) on the...