The testing room for Hamilcar Hi-Fi was soundproof, airtight and monitored at all times. So when Walter Kassel, the elderly inventor or a revolutionary new speaker is found stabbed through the heart inside the chamber, it seems to be an impossibility. Kassel and his speaker were due to make the company, and its six owners, more money than they could shake a stick at. So which of them would risk everything by murdering him? And why?
Enter businessman Ed Baer, an investor in the company, and his philosopher son, Matthew. Determined to get his investment back on the rails and build a better relationship with his son, Ed sticks his nose into the case.
Herbert Resnicow was a civil engineer who became a mystery novelist at the age of sixty. He is best known (a relative term, I’d admit) for the five “Gold” books, but he wrote this as the first of two featuring the Baer family. TomCat, over at Detection by Moonlight, is a bit of a fan, so I thought I’d take the plunge and try this one out. So, is it any good?
There’s a clear attempt to emulate the Golden Age here – a small cast of suspects, a locked room and a slightly odd detective team.
Let’s tackle the characters first. The Baers are well done – the book is in the first person, narrated by Ed, and, while not being the world’s greatest sleuths, they are pretty believable. There’s a nice spin about halfway through where the lead detective role slips from one character to the other – sort of – and it’s nice to see a team where one of them isn’t a complete idiot. Indeed, each of them solves part of the mystery – one gets the how, the other the who and why.
The suspects are less well served and, for me at least, they tended to blur into one at times. Admittedly, I was reading the book in small chunks, but it might have helped if the suspects weren’t all middle-aged men – apart from Ed’s confidant, it’s fair to say that the fairer sex are not particularly well-served in this book. There’s a lab assistant character but she doesn’t even get on the list of suspects.
The locked room is one of those technical ones – a bit of “Problem of the Wire Cage” and, for me, this was the least interesting part of the mystery. I’m more a fan of the “little thing you’ve overlooked” locked rooms, rather than the gadgety ones, and this falls into the latter category.
What redeemed the whole thing though was the motive. It’s rare that the motive is the element that actually solves the crime and Resnicow does a really good job of the plotting here. I’ll admit, I was completely on the wrong track about the mysterious super-speaker, but all the clues you needed to spot the who and why were well on display. A shame that I didn’t particularly care about the who – it was just one of the six people to me.
So, recommended? I think so, but I’d recommend either reading it in big chunks or making a couple of who’s who notes. It would certainly have helped me, and I’m sure I’d have enjoyed the book more if I had. I’ll be back to Resnicow later in the year with one of the Gold mysteries.