I've been prompted to take a fresh look at the work of American whodunit writer Elizabeth Daly after listening to Sarah Ward talking about Daly's books on a couple of occasions recently. Sarah chose Daly as one of her authors to remember at Crimefest, and also discussed her work in some depth at Bodies from the Library. She also suggested that it helps to get a clear picture of the life of Daly's amateur sleuth, Henry Gamadge, if one starts with Daly's first book in the series.
This raises a point that I find very interesting. A great many people I talk to say that they like to begin a series at the beginning. I can understand why. Characters and relationships can sometimes make more sense than if one plunges into a series when it's already very well-established. When my Lake District Mysteries are sold at events, The Coffin Trail, the first in the series, generally sells best. Yet there are downsides to beginning at the beginning. A good author will want to improve, and sometimes a first book will spend quite a lot of time setting the scene. Later books may be more impressive.
I've just read Daly's debut, Unexpected Night, set in 1939, and published a year later, when Daly was already over 60. Compared to most authors working in the Golden Age tradition - and Daly clearly was - she was a late starter, though she did go on to have a long and successful career. This one i's a decent whodunit with a nice, if well-telegraphed, plot twist, and it introduces Gamadge as an affable, youngish expert in manuscripts.
Overall, however, I think it's fair to say that Daly was one of those writers who honed her technique over the years, and some of her later books represent a significant advance on this one. I felt that the basic set-up, about a young but sickly man who comes into a fortune on his 21st birthday was very contrived, and that the pool of suspects was not the most interesting. Gamadge, too, though likeable, is not truly memorable. I'd rate this one as worth a read, but I think Daly's later books tend to be better.