A wealthy miserable bitch of a woman is hunted and ruthlessly murdered, her back (just below her shoulder blades) revealing a tattoo. Too many people had reasons to murder the woman, and their alibis are weak. When another woman dies with a tattoo on her back, in the same location, the two murders become a real mystery.
“Murder’s a Must” by John Russell Fearn was published by Muir-Watson Ltd., Glasgow (1949). It is a 128-page digest-paperback with excellent cover art. The illustration is rendered by Reina Bull (nee Sington).
In this splendidly-written crime thriller, Scotland Yard’s Inspector Handcock (yes, you read that accurately) arrogantly accepts an unsolvable murder from a Divisional Inspector, whom is at his wit’s end. Handcock soon confesses to his partner Sergeant Grimshaw that he may have accepted a tough assignment. He’s right.
The case begins with the murder of Vera Bradmore. Her assailant lithely had climbed a wall, inserted their self through a window, then smothered Vera to death with a pillow. Prior to the murder, the killer extracts the whereabouts of two other persons. Adding insult to injury, the murderer exposes her back and reveals a tattooed name: MARY.
Handcock has his hands full (no pun intended) when another murder occurs. Far to the north, one Elsie Jackson is smothered to death, found face down in the sands of a lonely beach. Her husband discovers her corpse. The news reaches the ears of our desperate Inspector. The girl would otherwise remain unmentioned, save for the fact that her back is equally tattooed with a name: IAN.
The third person murdered wraps up the entire plot, as we learn the trio are sisters, triplicates, in fact. Their father decades ago was part of a famous jewel heist. His mask failing to protect his identity, he escaped and secreted the diamonds and then tattooed clues onto the backs of his young daughters (a painful memento; gee, thanks dad!). The police catch up to him and while hopping over rooftops, he plummets to his death.
Or was escape impossible and the splat a suicide?
The children were left in the care of another family, whom had a daughter one year their senior. This family-man was believed to be the triplicate’s father’s accomplice during the heist. It was never spoken of, even to his own family. Years pass, and, when the trio reach 16 years of age, they inexplicably vanish. They sealed a pact among themselves to part ways, never contact one another, change their identities and disappear, for better or for worse.
Meanwhile, the caretakers also move, departing England. Our highly resourceful inspector learns that they sailed for South Africa. Contacting authorities, he learns that the entire family died in a fire. Or, did they? He suspects the daughter in fact did not die. Furthermore, he speculates the father at some point did disclose the jewel heist to his family.
During the ensuing investigation, a figure from his past returns; an old friend (Cavendish) wishes to renew their friendship. Baffled by this sudden jack-in-the-box surfacing during a murder investigation, Handcock juggles the idea that Cavendish might be somehow tied up with the murders. When he is inexplicably invited to Cavendish’s home to meet his wife, an American that was born in London, his guts churn with a new conviction.
We eventually learn that it is Mr. Cavendish’s wife that is the murderer, whom was the daughter of the other jewel heist man! She did not die in the fire; a friend of the family died instead, and was mistakenly identified. She is captured after having killed the final sister.
With all three clues at her disposal, at night, she investigates the combined clues (I won’t reveal the final 3-word name) down a dark street. The police pounce, apprehend, and bring her to Inspector Handcock. Here, she finally confesses the entire plot and catches Handcock and Grimshaw off-guard by sucking on a seemingly innocent lozenge which in fact contains half a grain of atropine, a deadly poison. She dies and Inspector Handcock is left the grisly task of informing Mr. Cavendish that not only has his loving wife died, but, she is also the murderer, three-times over. Good luck, bub!
If this book sounds right up your alley, guess what!!!
You may readily find it reprinted as “The Tattoo Murders.”