Lovers’ Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery — A Treasury of XXth Century Murder
It’s always a morbid pleasure to read another Rick Geary tale of unsolved murder. His true-life story retellings are involving and frustrating — because even now, almost a hundred years later, we still don’t know exactly what happened and who to blame. Lovers’ Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery is the perfect story for our uncertain times, one involving illicit romance, death, finger-pointing, sex leading to scandal, and no solid answers to stand on. We’ll never know the truth, and we have to live with that uncertainty.
If it weren’t for the ridiculously awful police procedure — including not securing the crime scene from lookie-loos tromping through — this case could have happened months instead of decades ago. A married New Jersey preacher is found dead in a secluded area popular with couples, his body lying next to a woman revealed as his lover by the letters between them scattered around the corpses.
The Reverend Edward Hall’s wife was older, rich, and member of a socially well-known family. Eleanor Mills was married to a boring school janitor and threw herself into helping the pastor at the church and singing in the choir. By the time of their deaths in 1922, they had been involved for at least three years.
Aside from the obvious question of “who did it?”, other open queries remain. When did the spouses know of the infidelities? How much did it bother them? How much of what the “pig woman” witness said was accurate?
Geary’s unique style remains ideally suited for the material. He keeps it from being dry by presenting just the right image, knowing when to show us the players and when to focus on a particular element. The panel, for example, captioned, “By the year 1919, their love affair had begun in earnest,” shows only an interior church door with a ecclesiastical-looking arch at the top. It’s simple, but the implications are potent, with the closed door suggesting all kinds of unknown possibilities behind it.
His love of period detail throws the reader back into the long-ago time by using the right vehicles and outfits. His use of lines for shading also gives the material a historical aura, making everything seem like a woodcut or other older method of reproduction. It’s the opposite of high-tech or modern in feel.
Ultimately, the story reminds us of both the universal and the temporary. This was a scandal and a mystery known by almost everyone in at least two states at the time, but almost no one today has even heard of the events. Yet while the specifics are forgotten, the motivation — whether jealousy or revenge or betrayal — is still relevant and current.
There are preview pages at the publisher’s website. The previous books in this series, A Treasury of XXth Century Murder, are
- The Lindbergh Child
- Famous Players
- The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans
- The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti
(The publisher provided a review copy.)