George Dyer. The Catalyst Club: A Murder Mystery (1936) 288 pp.
“Every city has strange little gatherings of men, pursuing curious ends in hidden corners of the sprawling chessboard of streets ... San Francisco has her share of these associations, and none of them more extraordinary in its aims and achievements than the Catalyst Club.” (p. 5) The Catalyst Club is a group of six amateur detectives in San Francisco who meet weekly in Golden Gate Park (at “Capsten Memorial Circle,” an outdoor picnic area, complete with fireplace) to discuss local crimes and deduce solutions to mysteries that have the police stumped. They always turn the results of their work over to the authorities and shun the public eye. The members are: Leonard Sloat, a retired criminal attorney who now rarely leaves the confines of his house on Lincoln Way; Dr. Alexander MacCarden, a psychiatrist who also lectures at the University of California, Berkeley; Theodore Lempereur, a chemist who operates his own commercial laboratories; Cyriak Brill-Jones, an ichthyologist at the San Francisco Aquarium who also serves as the Club’s official secretary; Newton Bulger, a “rowdy, informally educated, ex-cowpuncher, ex-mechanic, with a genius for machinery ... and an unequalled knowledge of the State of California;” and Persen “Buzz” Drake, a police reporter for the San Francisco Times. All of the Club members’ particular skills are put to the test as they investigate the bizarre death of Brenda Chalis, a beautiful Stanford co-ed whose naked, brutally mutilated body is discovered on the grounds of her wealthy father’s Burlingame estate. Suspects include a couple of current and former boyfriends (one of whom is a Stanford football player), a cousin whose house neighbors the estate, and Brenda’s own two West Highland terriers, whose lifeless bodies are found nearby. While the police struggle to even figure out what the cause of death (wild dogs? mountain lion?) or whether it was murder or an accident, the Club pursues a wide array of leads that eventually leads to the only logical—if improbable—answer.
Setting: San Francisco; Burlingame
Baird & Greenwood 721