At the urging of Lady Viola Merritt, newly minted “society journalist” Charles Venebles has come to take up residence at the Garden Hotel in Kensington. According to Lady Viola, while the accommodations are very comfortable, the price for them is also “amazingly cheap”, and the guests are an odd. Charles finds that there is definitely something fishy going on behind the hotel’s rather “uninspiring arrangement of stucco” with it’s odd queer assortment of guests, including a sinister Egyptian, a hysterical spinster with psychic visions, a clergyman who studies Coptic rites, and the mysterious proprietor and proprietress.
“This is really too awful…When one hears a bloke threaten to kill his wife and then immediately afterwards meets a sinister and mysterious Oriental, it is time to move somewhere else, for one has obviously walked into the plot of a thriller of the vulgarest and most exciting description.”
Sinister to say the least, for later that evening Mrs. Budge and Miss Sanctuary, another resident, disappear. One from a locked bedroom, the other in front of a witness. Before long the discovery of Mrs. Budge’s dismembered body brings Detective Inspector Bernard Bray Scotland Yard into investigate, with a little help from Charles Venables, who has some hidden talents which they will need to uncover the hotel’s secrets and solve a gruesome case of murder.
This was definitely a fun read, one filled with dark humor, excellent story-telling, and engaging, fascinating characters. Despite a description of someone who is pompous in appearance and wit, Venables is extremely likeable. As the amateur detective in the piece he is intelligent, as friend (and love interest) he is warm and charming.
The residents of the Garden Hotel provide a great deal of entertainment with their eccentricities. Bacteriologist and unpaid curate Reverend Septimus Blood, obsessed with reconstructing the Coptic rites; the numerous spinsters – Miss Mumby, a rich, elderly lady who “spends all her money on séances and cats”, Miss Hectoring with her moustache and “mountainous contours”, who acts as guardian-companion to Miss Geranium; and the sinister-looking, squint-eyed Egyptian Eppoliki, who meets Charles with a knowing wink and a nod.
The mystery is really quite a good one too. While the solution to the locked room and the identity of the murderer are fairly obvious the motive is not. Nor is the secret behind the hotel itself. Both are clever and original, and I believe, will fool just about every reader.
Moonstone Press has recently entered the fray and started reprinting forgotten GAD writers. This is one of four by Sprigg that they have printed. Here’s hoping for more! But until then, this is one that I highly recommend.
My Judgment – 4.25/5
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