The thing about reading non-magical mysteries based on fairy tales is that one never truly knows what one is getting oneself into. Now, if you’ve read my introduction, it won’t surprise you that I started reading the Matthew Hope series with the book that follows this, titled Beauty and the Beast and based on (surprise, surprise) Beauty and the Beast. Maybe I’ll review that someday, but that day is not today. Rumpelstiltskin I read second, only because when I was at the library it was sitting right next to Beauty and the Beast, so much taller and less battered and with its red title beckoning to me.
I’m really glad I picked it up and read it, because if I hadn’t, I may never have read another book by Evan Hunter. (Evan Hunter is the legal name of Ed McBain…but he was born Salvatore Lombino.) But as it was, with Rumpelstiltskin sitting there beckoning to me after I finished Beauty and the Beast, I thought I’d give him another chance. And oh, am I glad I did.
When you read Ed McBain, it’s rather hard to forget that you’re reading an author who was writing in the 60’s, and that these books were published in the 80’s. Why? Because nowadays while a lot of crime novels are still racy, they aren’t quite like this, exuding that sense of decades in the past. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I just don’t read enough crime novels. In any case, it felt very 70’s or 80’s to me.
The premise of this story is that Matthew Hope, the main character who is a lawyer, meets a woman and sleeps with her. He wants to leave, and she tries to get him to stay, and following a small spat he leaves. The next day, the woman is found dead and her small daughter is missing.
The story contains many references to the tale of Rumpelstiltskin, but this doesn’t dominate the story. The story is its own, without being overshadowed by the tale that it supposedly is loosely based off of. The Rumpelstiltskin references are artful drops of water in a glass of dark whiskey, diluting a dark, grim story just enough so as not to immerse its reader, without detracting from the strong tang that is the bitterness of the tale. The conclusion is immensely satisfying, as is the culprit’s story of how events unfolded. This mystery showcases the vulnerability of what it means to be human, the susceptibility to vices we don’t even consider ourselves capable of possessing.
Throughout this story, not quite in the background but in parallel with it, unfolds the personal life of Matthew Hope, who has a daughter with the wife that he has divorced. He and his ex-wife do not get along in the least—she yells at him while he pretends to listen—but he loves his daughter truly and dearly. He and his teenage daughter discuss her future, his personal life, and her social life at school. Also unfolding is an attraction with a lawyer named Dale, whom he meets over the course of this story and naturally assumes to be a man, but turns out to be a (very lovely) woman.
I give this story an 8/10.