Murder In The Maze by J J Connington

Murder In The MazeWhistlefield is a picturesque country house, with a lovely hedge maze in the garden. It’s a special maze, as it has two centres – open areas where the twin brothers, Roger and Neville Shandon sometimes go for a bit of peace and quiet. Oh, and the last time they went into the maze, they were both murdered by curare-centred air-gun pellets…

Enter Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable of Police and his friend, the local squire Wendover. But with only a short list of suspects, most of which have cast iron alibis, can Driffield get to the bottom of things before more poisoned pellets start flying. Well, no, he can’t… There are three more attacks before he can get to the truth of the matter.

Curare! It’s been a while since I’ve read a book where that old chestnut cropped up. I think you know what sort of a book you’re in for when curare’s on the menu. Yum! (sort of).

Taking a break from “Original Sins” – never intended to be a continuous series of reviews  – I picked this little gem from my Kindle as I lay in my hospital bed trying to pass the time. This was an ideal selection. It’s been sitting on my reader since I spotted it as a recommendation and I dimly recalled a recommendation from Curtis Evans on his blog The Passing Tramp – indeed, a section of Curtis’ book Masters of the Humdrum Mystery is dedicated to Alfred Walter Stewart aka J J Connington. Furthermore, Evans writes a sparkling introduction to this book as well.

It’s almost everything you want from a fair-play mystery. Everything is clued and you should be able to work out everything from motive to method to murderer. You have a mildly eccentric sleuth – Driffield is content to initially play the foolish plod until he is ready to crank his investigations up a notch – along with an entertaining sounding board in Squire Wendover. Wendover’s perfectly content to put forward his own theories, which aren’t ludicrous, and there’s a couple of nice points where Driffield seems surprised at Wendover’s perceptiveness and somewhat ashamed at dismissing his ideas.

If I had to pick a hole, then I think I’d have to say that Connington doesn’t quite master a difficult trick – namely making a surprising murderer out of a small field of suspects. Yes, only one murderer makes sense, but it’s not a desperately interesting choice. Compare instead, for example, Nicholas Blake in The Case of the Abominable Snowman, where with about four suspects, he still produces a surprising solution.

But nonetheless, this is an entertaining, easy read and perfect fodder for the armchair detective. Highly recommended and I’ll certainly be returning to Connington in the future.

WHERE CAN I GET IT?

An actual paper copy? – best try the second hand shops –  but you can pick up an ebook of it for £3 from Amazon.

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
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28 Responses to Murder In The Maze by J J Connington

  1. Connington remains an unknown quantity so thanks for this – sounds like I should try harder to track some of his work down (it’ll have to be paper though)

  2. lesblatt says:

    I thought the scenes in the maze were particularly effective – the nightmarish quality of the situation is really well done; I think the reader (well THIS reader anyway!) really gets the feeling of being trapped in the maze.

  3. TracyK says:

    I am always surprised to learn about an author from this period that I have not heard of. I will have to try this. And a country house mystery. That is a favorite type of mine. Thanks for this review.

  4. Just Askin' says:

    Some say Connington was a plodder. Did you find the story moved fast enough?

  5. Bev Hankins says:

    I’ve only read one Connington book (The Eye in the Museum) and that was long ago and far away. Much too long ago for me to remember much about it, other than I did like it and put Connington down on my list of authors to look for–must find a way to reread. The good John over at Pretty Sinister Books has awarded me my second Connington book (Death at Swaythling Court) with my prize package from his Mystery Trivia Contest last Nov/Dec. I’ve just got to find a way to shoehorn that one in to the reading I already have planned for this year…..

    Murder in the Maze sounds like a good one as well. I suppose I might as well give in and add it to the TBR list. :-)

  6. curtis evans says:

    Hey, Puzzle Doctor, thanks for the mention very much, but I was wondering: You read my intro where, in the paperback copy by Coachwhip or in the Kindle version from Orion? It shouldn’t be in the latter! I mean, I would like it to be, but no one at Orion asked me. I think Coachwhip has dibs.

    There are three Conningtons available from Coachwhip in paperback, Maze, The Castleford Conundrum and The Tau Cross Mystery (In Whose Dim Shadow). Orion eventually will offer all the Conningtons on Kindle. The Coachwhip paperback versions will only be available for this year, so if you want a copy keep that in mind!

    Yes, Connington gets a section of Masters of the Humdrum Mystery, available on Kindle for, I believe, $18 and in traditional version for, ahem!, $50, if you want to live large! This is the place to go for learning about his life and work. I was able to interview his nonagenarian daughter and also his get access to his correspondence with Rupert Gould.

    It’s interesting that you found the culprit too obvious. At the time T. S. Eliot said he was stumped! But I suppose mystery readers have become harder to stump since the 1920s.

    I rather liked the way that whole thing was resolved. It was quite horrific in a way, I thought, but incredibly masterful on Driffield’s part. The whole thing should film well. As Les said the maze section in the beginning is striking, reminiscent, I think, of The Shining (did Stephen King ever read this book). It’s easy to see why John Dickson Carr remembered that part.

    • Well it’s definitely the Murder Room edition and it’s definitely your introduction!

      As to it being obvious, that isn’t what I meant. Just that the solution isn’t desperately exciting – Connington’s twist that the murderer used something to be able to commit the crime seems to be being sold as a clever twist but it’s not that exciting! And the choice of killer is just a bit too sensible for me…

      • Patrick says:

        While I agree with some of your comments, I think Connington’s idea of a murder in a maze is brilliantly executed in terms of atmosphere, and for its day the twist was apparently innovative, being praised by figures like John Dickson Carr and T. S. Eliot! While the twist might not carry the same power anymore, the quality of the writing hasn’t diminished one iota.

      • curtis evans says:

        That’s interesting to read! Murder Room has no authority from me to use my introduction. I’d be happy to do pieces for them, but I think they ought to ask me first! Of course I am pleased they included Connington in the series, I wish they could do John Street and Crofts as well, for starters. Sounds like I need to talk them.

      • It struck me as particularly odd as the other books that you mention in detail in the introduction haven’t been reissued by The Murder Room.

  7. Sarah says:

    Hope the hospital stay wasn’t too serious. JJ Connington was an author recommended by the ‘classic crime’ panel at last year’s crimefest. I’ve not got around to trying him yet – this one sounds good.

  8. wileng says:

    I just finished Catherine Aird’s Amendment of Life, which is a more recent murder in a maze mystery. I can’t help wondering if King was inspired by any of the older maze books, not to mention Earl Derr Biggers’ Seven Keys to Baldpate, which finds a writer holed up in an abandoned resort for the winter so that he can get some work done.

  9. Curtis Evans says:

    Sarah, oh yes, Martin definitely likes Connington.

    Puzzle Doctor, I’ve emailed Orion about this. Actually, I thought Coachwhip had exclusive rights in the U. S. to those three book titles, Murder in the Maze, Castleford Conundrum and The Tau Cross Mystery/In Whose Dim Shadow. My introduction was written for Coachwhip and it is copyrighted, so I don’t see how Orion ended up using it. I’d be happy to write a piece for them on Connington, but they would need to actually ask me!

    I wonder if they just did this with Murder in the Maze or other titles as well? I was going to put in a plug for the Coachwhip edition, that it had my introduction! I don’t think Coachhwip will be too happy to hear Orion is using it.

    By the way, the Coachwhip paperback editions are very nice and not too much more expensive than the Kindle ones. People might want to take a look at them.

  10. Curtis Evans says:

    Sarah, Connington, Freeman, Garve and McCloy are all good suggestions. I do wish some English libraries would purchase my Masters of the “Humdrum” Mystery, so people could more easily read about forgotten GA authors. It’s in 72 libraries, but none in Britain. It’s even in Germany and the Netherlands, but not Britain.

  11. Curtis Evans says:

    It appears my intro is only in Murder Room’s edition of Murder in the Maze. But there’s no way it should be there without my permission. I will await Orion’s explanation with interest. Thanks for the alert on this matter!

  12. Glad to see Connington coverage! This is a good story, I think, and I strongly recommend The Sweepstake Murders. Sometimes there was a bit of clumsiness in the telling, but overall I feel he was an enjoyable and very intelligent writer.

  13. Pingback: The Puzzly – The ISOTCMN Book of the Month – January 2013 | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

  14. Pingback: The Case With Nine Solutions by J J Connington | In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

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