Sir Matthew Vardon was an unpleasant man. We meet him extorting some shares from a drug addict. Successful, he leaves the desperate young man with a syringe full of a potentially lethal dose… When next we meet him, however, it is at his own funeral. He died of apparent apoplexy – but a note is found in his effects: “I AM KILLING YOU SLOWLY. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE. THE CHESSMAN”
Days later, Isabelle Stanton and Sue Castradon are arranging the flowers in the church. But it’s not just flowers they find in a cupboard. It’s a body, with the hands and feet removed and the face battered beyond all recognition. And next to the body – an ornate chess-piece…
It seems that the Chessman has a plan – well, a hit-list at least. But in the meantime, Isabelle Stanton has contacted her brother – the writer-cum-amateur detective Jack Haldean. But he’ll have to move fast to stop the death count from rising even further…
So, back to Dolores Gordon-Smith’s Jack Haldean series, first visited um… five reviews ago. It was while reading that one that I spotted the latest available for review on Netgalley. As I was enjoying the first one, I thought I’d sample the latest in the series. And I’m really glad I did.
Very much written in the Golden Age style, this was an absolute treat. Jack Haldean is an affable lead – no obvious quirks apart from a dodgy leg – and there’s a pleasing array of suspects, although for large parts of the narrative, the reader won’t know which direction to look in.
The serial killer idea is rather hard to marry to the whodunit format. I can think of one obvious success, The ABC Murders, (actually two, although I’ve rarely seen And Then There Were None referred to in that way) but others generally don’t pull it off so well – one problem is that with a cast of suspects, the victims tend to be anonymous which makes a motive hard to establish. If the killer instead works on the main cast, then it’s usually easy to spot the killer as the book progresses. It takes a clever plot to make you care about the victims and still get blind-sided by the identity of the villain.
Talking of the characters, there’s a lovely variety of characters on display – none of the two-dimensional stereotypes that often populated the books from the era that is being emulated here. There are only a few Golden Age books I can think of where I found myself caring as much about some of the characters as much as I did here – the final few pages in particular were lovely.
This book has a clever plot. Even an old dog like me had a couple of theories – all I’ll say is that they were both half-right and half-wrong. If I’d put them together in the right way… but no, I was fooled. It’s a clever game that the author plays here and I absolutely loved it.
UK readers – it’s out at the end of the month, so go pester your library to order a copy of it now. It’s an absolute cracker. Highly Recommended.