The Three Widows by Bernice Carey

published 1952

(& also The Man Who Got Away With It, same author, 1950)

[clothes descriptions from throughout the book]

She responded affirmatively in a light, gay voice, and floated toward them on a billow of pale blue organdy.

He almost stared rudely as he recognized Mrs. Smith. For a moment he hadn’t recognized her. She was, he realized, one of those rare people who looked better without clothes than with them. A one-piece blue silk bathing suit revealed full breasts held firmly in place above an honest-to-God waistline and firm, rounded buttocks. The flesh on her thighs and legs was smooth and tapered neatly to the knees and ankles.

Mrs. Smith was coming up the steps, neat and matronly in her straight yellow dress and oxfords with sensible heels.

Mrs. Meadows had on a heavy gray linen dress made on simple lines.

comments: My friend Kate Jackson at the Cross-Examining Crime blog told me that I would love the clothes in The Three Widows, and she was not wrong. I also found that the double reprint of these two crime novels had an introduction by Curtis Evans of the Passing Tramp blog, so there was satisfaction guaranteed…

The Three Widows is a neat, satisfying crime story, funny and full of details of its time. It starts slightly misleadlingly, with death on a beach in a very busy resort in California. There are some very visual and detailed descriptions of the sheer weight of humanity on the beach, beautifully done.

Then two of the characters, Mr and Mrs Bladewell, head off to a quite different vacation destination: a ‘cabin resort’ called El Valle Escondido, inland from the Californian coast in a very identifiable spot near San Luis Obispo and the San Simeon highway – ‘half dude ranch, half motel’. My own adventures in the Western part of the USA enabled me to imagine this very easily: there are very uptodate versions still, and there are others that seem as though they might not have changed since the 1950s. A series of wooden cabins, each with its own facilities, grouped round some communal rooms. Guests can eat communally or else cook their own meals, and there is a pool and various activities on offer. Ideal for a crime novel: the guests get to know each other as they gather to eat and then to dance, or play cards, or flirt, or drink, or walk in the moonlight.

The Bladeswells are there with a single and very eligible friend, Chet. There are three apparently equally eligible women among the guests, maybe widowed, maybe divorced. All are jostling to make friends with Chet, and being quietly rude about each other. Excruciating social details are discussed all the time. (It would be an excellent book to recommend to those who tell me that the US, unlike the UK, has never had any class consciousness.)

All very well – but Melvin Bladeswell has his own suspicions, that one of the women may well be a husband-murderer. He feels obliged to investigate, concerned that his friend Chet may be the next victim.

The life in the ranch is really well done, as are the clothes: I loved all the details. And the solution was satisfying. It was short and very enjoyable read. Kate’s review tells more and is highly recommended.

The Man Who Got Away With It is a very different kind of story - more serious and sadder, though still very true to a certain stratum of American post-war life. Kate has done an excellent post on it here and I recommend you read that – I agreed with her comments and views and didn’t have much to add, apart from enjoying the details of small-town life. 

It starts off with a group of people discussing a long-past unsolved crime in the town – I do love that as a setup, though the book followed through in a different way than the reader might expect.

And this struck a chord across the years –
[Ben asks his wife about their teenage daughter] “Is Shirley throwing a party tonight?” 

“Oh no. She said some of the kids might drop over this evening, is all. I left some stuff for sandwiches and a few bottles of coke in the icebox.”
- my own teenagers were always having ‘not a party – a gathering’.

There are apparently quite a few more books by Bernice Carey ready for re-publishing – I’ll be in line for them. When Curt first wrote about this author, I complained in the comments that I couldn’t find anything by her, and Curt said he thought they had never been published in the UK. So hurray for some aspects of modern publishing.

Three women…. from Kristine’s photostream, 1952

Advert for Jantzens – in the book ‘Gantner’ swimsuits are mentioned, and I think this might be a coded reference.

Yellow patterned dress from fashion ad of the era.

Round the pool, also from Kristine, 1952.


  1. This does sound like a satisfying read, Moira, and an interesting mystery. And I do like a novel that gives the reader a good look at the times. I couldn't agree more about class consciousness, too; it's always been a part of US society in some form or another...

    1. I think every society, no matter how egalitarian, has its own form of class consciousness - it's part of the reality and the rough and tumble of life.
      And, this was an enjoyable read both for the social details and the crime plot.

  2. So glad you enjoyed this one. Yet again I forgot I recommended this book to you! (Need to start a list or something...)
    I read two more Carey books, (in the latest stark house twofer) last week and The Reluctant Murderer has some amusing/interesting clothes moments.

    1. I think you have the perfect excuse Kate, in that generally you recommend, and I get hold of a copy, and then I read it a looooong time later! But always grateful. And I would definitely read more by her, so thanks for the extra title.

  3. I think I would like these books but don't know when I will want to spend more money one them. I have been buying more books lately but there is a limit. On the wish list it goes.

  4. Never mind, I went to put it on the wish list and the price was so reasonable, and I succumbed.

    1. Oh well I hope you enjoy! I have had an eye out for her books for ages so was glad to find them. And honestly, the kind of book we both really like I think.


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