Whistlefield 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.