When Amazon had a couple of Kindle her books on sale, I had never heard of author Dorothy Salisbury Davis — which is quite a pity, as she was quite well known in her day. Who could resist a book titled The Judas Cat? Not I!
Alex Whiting runs the Weekly Sentinel in the Midwestern town of Hillside, as his father Charles Whiting has gone into semi-retirement; Fred Waterman is nearing retirement as the honest police chief of Hillside. When a 92-year-old recluse named Andrew Mattson dies in very peculiar circumstances, the town’s and county’s power structure seems arrayed against anyone poking their noses into what actually happened to old Andy Mattson.
Both Whiting and Waterman suspect the hand of the Addison family, millionaires who run factories across the country, including neighboring Riverdale. But what did the Addisons have to fear from an old man who almost never left his house?
Cleverly plotted, The Judas Cat remains as suspenseful as it must have been for readers in 1949, when it was first released. Davis never lets her tale of crusading newspaper man and incorruptible cop fall into cliché; neither man rivals Sherlock Holmes — or even Penny Parker — in cleverness, and they have other flaws, as well. But I couldn’t put the novel down, and the ending came as an utter surprise.
I also appreciated that the novel reminds readers that the post-World War II era was not necessarily as perfect as is made out in nostalgia-laden accounts. The type of gambling and political corruption that made the Kefauver Hearings necessary emerge in the novel, and it’s too easy to forget how much sway the powerful had in that supposed Golden Age — much more so than now — when crossing the town’s biggest shot could well mean ostracism, financial ruin, or even institutionalizing in a mental institution. No rose-colored glasses for me, thank you!