The Castleford Conundrum by J. J. Connington

Winifred Castleford is painting in her studio, a solitary chalet in the woods, when she is accidently shot by her young nephew, who is playing with his rook rifle. When Inspector Westerham arrives he finds that an accidental death doesn’t match with the evidence and is soon investigating whethermurder has been done. Upon his meeting “Winnie’s” relatives, he finds that not only did she recently revoked her will (without signing a new one), but that there was no love lost between she and her family, “as a human personality, Mrs. Castleford had counted for remarkably little with even her intimates.” Given that the entire family isfar from appealing, he has no shortage of suspects.

The plot is well-crafted and intricate. What appears at first sight to be straightforward, becomes a knotty investigation complicated by numerous motives, morphine, and blackmail. The majority of the investigation is done by the local police, in the form of Inspector Westerham. Sir Clinton Driffield, along with his Watson, Squire Wendover, does not enter the story until about two-thirds of the way through, when the investigation has stalled. Once Sir Clinton begins his investigation matters begin to move along quite rapidly. Throughout, Connington does a first-ratejob offering the reader crucial information while adding diversions to send their attention elsewhere. Sir Clinton even provides what he says are nine key points in the case that will reveal the murderer. That being said, I was able to spottedthe culprit almost immediately. It just seemed obvious to me.

What I enjoyed most was the fantastic job Connington did rendering these characters, each of whom are detestable in every way. Winifred Castleford is an odious, selfish, stupid woman. Philip Castleford, her seemingly sympathetic second husband, is in reality a cowardly weakling who married her only for her money; her brothers-in-law, are parasitic and manipulative; her nephew is a lying sadist; and her half-sister is slyly calculating and condescending. Of the family, only Hillary (Philip’s daughter by his first wife), is portrayed as in any way likeable. Even the local police, in the form of PC Gumly, is a morose, unpleasant, misogynist. 

Since this is the first Connington that I’ve read, the introduction by Curtis Evans was extremely informative and helpful. It’s always interesting to learn about the progression of a writer’s career, especially when they are so prolific, but seem to have been forgotten, such as in this case.

This book worth the read, and this is an author I will definitely continue reading. 

My Judgment – 4/5

Prior Rulings – Martin @ Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

José @ A Crime is Afoot 

Les @ Classic Mysteries.net

Curtis Evans @ The Passing Tramp

 

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