Mystery At Friar’s Pardon by Martin Porlock aka Philip MacDonald

Friar’s Pardon is the estate of Enid Lester-Green, the famous novelist, and is in desperate need of an estate manager. Enter Charles Fox-Browne, a man with a varied history, who is on the lookout for exactly such a post. But Friar’s Pardon is no ordinary house. It has a history of unexplained deaths, people found drowned in their rooms with no trace of water present. And history is about to repeat itself…

As ghostly goings-on plague the corridors of the house, it seems that something sinister is afoot. And when death strikes, Fox-Browne finds himself recruited by the local constabulary to find the killer – which might be a problem if the murderer is as supernatural as some people think…

Martin Porlock was a pseudonym for Philip MacDonald, the prolific writer of crime fiction. His primary character was Anthony Gethryn, but the Porlock stories were standalones. The most famous was X v. Rex, which seems to have been quickly to have been re-released under Macdonald’s own name, but the earlier two titles seemed to stay under the Porlock pseudonym for longer. This one is a fairly rare title – I was lucky to run across this copy on eBay as part of a sale of the collection of the late Bob Adey, the expert on the locked room mystery. Lucky is certainly the word as I got it for an absolute pittance, although I’ve now probably managed to elevate the prices of the other copies now, as that’s what I seem to do.

This is an entertaining tale, for the most part. The primary problem is that when you know early on how the victim is going to die and who the victim is going to be, you do feel a bit impatient waiting for the crime to take place – it’s about halfway through the book, in fact.

The first half is taken up with the build-up of the atmosphere and the introduction of the various characters – I’ll be honest, I could have done with the house party being a bit smaller – but it kicks into gear once the crime takes place. We find out a little more about Fox-Browne’s background, and apart from a rather detached romance sub-plot, it’s all rather clever. One aspect of the crime – not the locked door, as that’s very prosaic – is rather horrifyingly clever and simple at the same time, one of the more impressive things that I’ve seen for a while. And while the murderer did stick out a bit to me at least, there’s enough going on here to keep the attention.

So, a pacier first half would have helped, but even though, this is a clever Golden Age mystery that definitely should be on the to-be-reprinted list. British Library, take note. In the meantime, this is certainly Recommended. But, as I always seem to be saying, good luck finding a copy…

By the way, if you want a second opinion, here’s a link to the thoughts of John Norris, from Pretty Sinister Books.

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9 comments

  1. Very jealous, as I’ve been stalking this one for a while. Macdonald and I got off to a poor start that has steadily improved with every title I’ve read, so I’m hoping that when I eventually track this down I’ll be appropriately prepared!

    Still, The Maze has been reissued, and Rynox is coming out in November…so perhaps (please!) a reprint of this is also on the cards…

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  2. Well done on finding a copy! I generally like his work a great deal as the cleverness and energy are still very apparent. He was probably more drawn to adventure scenarios and complex murder methods and unexpected narrative tricks than trying to mask a villain, so one can see maybe why he went on to a long movie career

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