Murder Of A Lady by Anthony Wynne

Murder Of A LadyTime to either take the high road or the low road to the Scottish Highlands – Duchlan Castle on the shores of Loch Fyne, to be precise. Mary Gregor, the sister of the laird, lies dead inside her bedroom. The door is, of course, locked securely from the inside, the weapon is missing and the only clue is a small herring scale found on her body. Inspector Dundas arrives to investigate, but his first problem – apart from the locked room, of course – is the victim herself. Was she the saint that some profess – or was she some sort of demonical matriarch to the household?

Dundas, to be fair, is out of his depth, but luckily amateur sleuth Eustace Hailey is in the area – although he is initially reluctant to help out. But as time passes, and the only development is the rumours of the mythical fish creatures in the loch, Hailey finds himself drawn into the case, if only to defend people he believes innocent from Dundas’ accusations. But can he find a killer who can – and does – strike without trace again and again?

Anthony Wynne was the pseudonym of Robert McNair Wilson, who wrote over twenty five mysteries featuring (I think) Eustace Hailey. Information on him is hard to find – for example, he only rates one mention in Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder and there’s not much information in that mention. His books have been rarely, if ever, reprinted, but Murder Of A Lady (aka The Silver Scale Mystery) is one of his better known works, better being a relative term of course. He wrote locked room mysteries, but for some reason, his work vanished without much of a trace.

Until Martin Edwards and the British Library reprinted this one. And it’s definitely worth a look. It takes a small cast of characters and ricochets suspicion backwards and forwards. The story never stands still and pulls two particularly surprising twists to keep the narrative from stagnating. My attention was never far from the plot and I was very intrigued to see how things would play out.

It’s not perfect, by any means. Certain aspects – the bruises around a character’s throat are ignored for a long period of the plot, as if this is perfectly acceptable behaviour – are odd, although not as odd as the method of murder. The herring scale idea is really rather beautiful, but I don’t really see how the method would have worked without massive luck and a rather stupid pathologist. And the method of hiding the killer is not one of my favourites. Oh, and Hailey is rather dull (and his initial refusal to investigate does make him seem a bit of an arse.)

But as I said, I was gripped all the way through and while the ending is a bit of a letdown, relative to the atmosphere of other parts of the tale, it didn’t detract from the fact that I enjoyed this one a lot. Well Worth A Look.

By the way, it’s not available on Amazon at the moment – it’s not officially out until early next year, but it’s on the shelves of UK bookshops already.

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13 comments

  1. Glad we agreed on the ending. I felt it was too abrupt. And yes I definitely thought it odd about that woman’s throat bruises – I was thinking surely someone is going to ask a few questions about this at some point…

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  2. Thanks for your review – I’ve been looking forward to your take on this title. 🙂 Of all the British Library reprints, this would have been the one I’m anticipating with the greatest eagerness. Though recent reviews haven’t been as glowing as I hoped…

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    • Fair point – this was one that I was really looking forward to, and it is good – just not Carr-good… The locked room isn’t the strongest aspect of it, but there’s lots to like here.

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  3. Information on Anthony Wynne and his scarce books is very easy to find if you read the vintage mystery blogs. He has been written about extensively by Curt Evans (who does a fine job with biographical info on Wilson), TomCat (Beneath the Stains of Time blog), Patrick Ohl (At the Scene of the Crime blog) and me. Granted the writing is more about the books than the man himself, but there is a lot of material out there. These days many of the vintage crime blogs are a better source of information on obscure and forgotten writers than legitimately published non-fiction research books who tend to overlook many writers worth investigating.

    Caveat for anyone interested in reading more of Wynne (and there are about four or five books which are definitely wroth reading): nearly all of his endings have the same abruptness as The Silver Scale Mystery…excuse me Murder of a Lady (a typically boring title from Wynne). There are a lot of ridiculous suicides that occur in the penultimate paragraphs which coupled with his lack of humor and the high melodrama in his plots have led me to call his books “detective operas”.

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