Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage, the debut novel by James Stewart, is set in the roaring twenties in southern California and gives a gripping look at the complexities of an unsolved homicide, the murder of the young and beautiful interpretive dancer Fritzie Mann.
Based on years of research, this true-crime narrative provides an adept tracing of the history of this once sensationalized murder mystery through a multifaceted lens that examines not only the murder but also journalistic behaviors, the investigative processes of the time, and a connection to a Hollywood sex scandal as well as the culture of the time.
This true-crime book initially captures the reader’s interest with the compelling history of Fritzie, a young woman in her early twenties who danced to help pay for her sick sister’s medical expenses. Her romantic ties, relationships, and dating, however, were shrouded in mystery to her family.
Fritzie’s terrible tale begins with the discovery of her body on a practically deserted beach with a significant abrasion on her forehead. Initially unidentified as a corpse, it took several identifying clues, including a note on a card stating “I am Fritzie Mann” and other identifying but not immediately associated belongings strewn across the beach, to build up to her true identity, especially after it was determined that she was a well-known exotic dancer. Her death became one of the most sensationalized news stories at the time in Southern California and rapidly made the main page.
In addition, the subsequent investigation appeared to follow a road of contradictory evidence, as indications led to contradictory conclusions concerning her death: Was she murdered? She committed suicide? or Was she submerged? In addition, the fact that she was in “delicate condition” added to the mystery and scandal surrounding the true cause of her death. However, once it was revealed that she had been slain, the question remained: Who was responsible? These inquiries transformed the tone of the investigation and led to the introduction of other intriguing possibilities, including an actor from Hollywood whom Fritzie’s mother thought was the genuine murderer. Moreover, what follows in the story is a well-organized, meticulously documented work that takes the reader through the intimate details of Fritzie’s life and death while also bringing to the foreground the enlightening culture and lifestyle of the period, which did appear to have a seedier side.
I enjoyed Mystery at the Blue Sea Cottage overall. I found it to be a completely captivating true crime book set in an era in which life, love, womanhood, and murder were viewed very differently than they are today. I was captivated by the descriptions of the police work, autopsy scenes, investigation methods, culture of the era, and secrets and scandals that transpired in the roaring twenties in Hollywood. I strongly endorse this book. It is a worthwhile read, and I would love to see it adapted into a film.