The Reverend Dodd is an avid reader of detective fiction. Every week he and his friend, Dr Pendrill, exchange a parcel of mystery novels but he never expected his assumed powers of deduction to actually be put to the test. But when local magistrate Julian Tregarthan is found shot to death in his study – apparently from three different directions – and his daughter Ruth is under suspicion, the good vicar finds himself determined to prove her innocence.
Inspector Bigswell is assigned to the case, determined to sort things out before Scotland Yard are summoned. But all of his theories seem to have problems with them – nothing seems to fit the facts satisfactorily. It’s only when he starts to listen to Reverend Dodd that things begin to resolve themselves. First published in 1935 and out of print since then, this is from the British Library Crime Classics range. But was it out of print for a reason?
Hmm… well, it’s not up there with Dame Agatha, that’s for certain. But let’s start with the good.
It’s very well written, with the Reverend Dodd in particular coming across as a very charming lead (although points off for all of the “if this was a mystery novel instead of being real” bits, a personal bugbear.) Bigswell is a little bland to be honest, but the book ticks along at a steady rate and it’s nice to have a detective who shares his thoughts with the reader – we solve it as he solves it. I’ve seen some people claim that it’s not a solvable mystery, but there is one clue – admittedly, only one clue – to the murderer but it’s more of an issue that the killer is… better not say, as it’ll be a spoiler. Put it this way, if you’re guessing, there’s a good reason why you won’t guess this one.
What bothers me more is the geometry of the murder. So the killer was standing on SPOILER but was close enough to see the window of the house – even throw gravel at it – and could shoot someone without any indication of the angle of the shot. And the SPOILER caused a massive variation in three quick shots… Sorry, it doesn’t work for me at all – doesn’t make the slightest sense. Having said that, all of these bits are revealed well before the denouement, so it doesn’t fall to the reader to work it out, but this one at least thought there was going to be more to this bit…
But if you put aside those problems, it’s rather a charming read and Well Worth A Look.