Dr Ringwood is entertaining a colleague when an emergency call is received and he promptly is off to the home of the Silverdales where a maid has fallen ill. Due to the thick fog, he manages to enter the next-door house instead and happens upon a young gentleman, shot twice in the lung who dies, just before gasping out a dying message. He heads next door to call Sir Clinton Driffield (last seen by me in Murder In The Maze), deals with the ill maid, heads back to the scene of the crime and then returns to the Silverdales with Driffield to be confronted with another dead body… and shortly another one turns up.
Yup, we’re in the Golden Age, in particular the domain of the mostly forgotten J J Connington. After reading Murder In The Maze, I promptly downloaded another of the recently reissued books by the author. So, is this someone who’s going to become another constant of the blog?
Quite possibly, I think. This one’s even better than Murder In The Maze, in my opinion.
Connington is sometimes dismissed (if he ever gets mentioned) as being somewhat on the tedious side – humdrum is the word – and I think that’s completely unfair. At no point was I bored reading this book, at no point did I think that the characters were cardboard cutouts and at no point was I not pondering the numerous clues that I’d completely missed. Some of the set pieces are enthralling – especially the stumbling around in the fog at the start.
That’s the most impressive thing about this book – it is full of clues indicating the murderer and yet the reader is likely to overlook all of them. In some ways, it reminded me of early Ellery Queen – The French Powder Mystery, for example. So many things indicate pretty clearly who the killer is and yet the reader overlooks them completely. Connington seems to be a master at this sort of thing.
What seems (at least by reading two of his books) not to be his strength is pulling a genuinely surprising murderer out of the bag – although this is a better one that Murder In The Maze – but he puts the suspects on a level playing field. This is, in my view, better than the “everyone bar one has an alibi” trick that the greats sometimes played (too often, in Dame Agatha’s case, IMHO) and it meant that I had to actually try and solve the mystery, rather than spot the obvious loony.
One could point the finger at the fact that the murderer does become astonishing ruthless very quickly – I’ll say no more – and the title of the book really is misleading – Nine Options of which we’ll rule six out very quickly doesn’t trip off the tongue so well, does it? But overall, this is a great example of a well-constructed mystery novel. Highly recommended.
If you want to know more about J J Connington, then I recommend checking out Curtis Evans’ post here – and if you want to know even more, then he’s written a book that heavily features Connington too.