Four friends have been attending a series of balls when they receive an invitation from a neighbor, Arthur Yeldham, to visit him at nearby Y Bryn House. The four, Martin Hands, his sister Patricia, Patricia’s fiancé Gerald Lansley, and Barbara Carmichael, are disinclined to go, but finally set off for Y Bryn. There, they find, not Yeldman, but a strange man named Salter and a very strange woman, who says nothing at all—and then slips out before anyone can stop her. Confusion reigns until Constable Reeves pops up to tell them that Yeldham is home. He’s in his office, and he’s been stabbed to death.
This being Hull, I was anticipating something unusual. And it was unusual—for Hull that is. This was something removed from his usual inverted mysteries—a conventional detective story, one that follows an investigation by a very normal Detective-Sergeant Scoresby. The police characters are given center stage, but still Hull manages to play with the convention of the plodding policeman by saddling Scoresby with the questionably competent, champagne swilling Constable Reeves, and the resentful, poaching-inclined Sergeant Evans.
Hull presents quite a solid mystery. And while the plot and solution are far from ingenious, the motives and red herrings are enough to keep the reader guessing—for a while. But therein lies the problem. Hull’s culprits are usually presented very early in his stories, and here he seems to have had a hard time keeping the identity of this culprit under wraps. With six definite suspects to choose from, most with significant motive, by midway through, Hull has made it fairly apparent who the murderer is.
There is the Hull’s distinctive sardonic wit, much of it presented via characterizations and character relationships, which he is so good at. Unfortunately, this is a fairly large group of characters, and no time is spent on any one individual. The result is a narrative that wanders from person to person, and situation to situation. Hints regarding some backgrounds and events thrown out but never followed up. In the end there is no real distinction, or allowance any event, or character to stand out.
I’m not sure what Hull was going for with his ending, which is very abrupt, seemingly in mid conversation. There is no ambiguity, as in The Ghost It Was, but it is certainly an odd conclusion.
This isn’t the best Hull that I’ve read to date, and nothing about it really stands out for me. So I’ll have to give it a meh—and move on.
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2015 Bingo— Read one book by an author with a pseudonym [Richard Henry Sampson]