Review: The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow by Anna Katharine Green
- Ladies and gentlemen, I should like to propose a new sub-division of the
GAD novel. To wit, works where the crime is committed in a museum, as is
the case in The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow. Other detections with the
setting that spring to mind are Van Dine's The Scarab Murder Case and
The Jew's Breastplate in Conan Doyle's Round The Fire Stories.
But to return to The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow. Set in May l9l3, the
novel opens with the death of a young girl on an upper floor of a New
York museum. She has been killed by an arrow and beside her kneels Mrs
Ermentrude Taylor, who was in the gallery room when the girl died.
Further, Mrs Taylor claims she had a psychic vision that her husband had
also died at the same time as the girl. Even stranger to relate, while
there are arrows aplenty no bow is anywhere to be seen.
The museum was immediately locked after the death, keeping visitors and
staff inside while the authorities were notified. Detective Ebenezer
Gryce, now 85, and his assistant Sweetwater soon arrive to investigate
the situation. It is a tangled case: was the death an accident or
murder? But who would be foolish enough to loose an arrow in a museum?
On the other hand, what motive could there be for doing away with a girl
barely in her mid teens?
After Gryce arrives everyone in the building is sent to stand in the
same spot as they were when Mrs Taylor's horrified cry alerted them to
the incident. Suddenly an extra man appears. Where has he sprung from?
The plot immediately begins to thicken. How does an English visitor, a
stranger to the victim, come to know her name? Why has the girl's
travelling companion hastily left their hotel without leaving a
forwarding address? For that matter what was the well-bred young lady
doing going about without a chaperone? Where is the bow hidden? How
could the arrow have been shot without someone in the open galleries
No less than three floor plans are provided. Readers will need to refer
to them more than once, because the plot is very dense and the movements
of those in the museum at the relevant time are vital to solving the
mystery. Enlightment comes only after much thought and a bit of travel.
Time and again the investigation comes to a screeching halt, only to be
picked up again after a bit of cogitation and/or leg work by Gryce,
Sweetwater, and others.
My verdict: This novel features what struck me as the saddest ending of
any mystery I have read this past six months or so, and yet the
complicated plot has sound psychological underpinnings for the era in
which it is set, and in some ways even today. Gryce and Sweetwater
initially suspect different culprits, but the real problem is linking
the various prime movers to each other and particularly finding the
motive. Sweetwater's use of carpentry skills aids the investigation in
an unexpected way!