Short Story Sunday: The Cape Cod Masquerade

Short Story Sunday

The Cape Cod Masquerade by Mary Higgins Clark

This was one of my favorites from Clark’s Death Wears a Beauty Mask and Other Stories that I read a few weeks ago. Alvirah and Willy Meehan are visiting Cape Cod in search of some peace and quiet. Their neighbor, a young woman staying alone, seems a little odd and against Willy’s wishes, Alvirah decides to go introduce herself and see what’s up.

Immediately, Alvirah recognizes the neighbor as Cynthia Lathem, a woman who was found guilty of murdering her stepfather twelve years earlier. Alvirah wants to know absolutely everything about the murder case, and promptly sends a request for the information to her contact at the New York Globe. She becomes engrossed in the story of Cynthia’s life, the death of her stepfather, and the details of her alleged motive for killing him: he had denied her money for college, stating that she would only receive her ten million portion of his money upon his death.

For Willy, this motive is enough to put the case to bed and enjoy their vacation. But what strikes Alvirah as odd is that Cynthia had an alibi for the night of her stepfather’s death and yet it was never verified. She claimed to have been on a date with a man named Ned Creighton, and yet she could never recall where they had stopped after their date. It was a fast food restaurant that seemingly no longer existed. Cynthia even recalled speaking with a woman there that night, but the witness never came forward.

Alvirah hatches a plan to help Cynthia, one which relies on both of their acting skills. They manage to convince Creighton that Alvirah is the long-lost witness who saw Cynthia the night of the murder. This spurs a chain of events involving Creighton, Cynthia’s stepsister Lillian, and both Alvirah and Willy. With the help of a small recording microphone from Alvirah pinned to her shirt, Cynthia manages to catch both Lillian and Creighton revealing their plan of killing the stepfather and setting Cynthia up as the murderer.

What makes this story compelling is not just the mystery of who really killed the stepfather, but the characters Willy and Alvirah and their quirky relationship. I especially like mysteries where I can get as invested as the characters as the story itself, don’t you? It really ups the ante of what’s at stake when the moment of truth arrives.

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