Snow had been falling since the second week in December, yet Angus Stuart is determined that he will spend Christmas holiday at “the most expensive pleasure resort on the map of England.” Three hours later, having traveled less than fifty miles, he seeks refuge and finds himself marooned with an “mixed caravanserai” at the aptly named inn Noah’s Ark.
Things quickly become unsettling when a masked man is seen in darkened passage, and a drunken Major Carew must be locked in his room to sober up. When a rope is seen dangling from his window it is assumed he has escaped. A hunt through the many passages and stairways leads nowhere until Mrs. Van Dolen appears, announcing that her emeralds have been stolen stolen. Believing the Major to be involved his room is broken into. It seems the major never left. He’s still in bed, bludgeoned to death. Who’s the murderer, who’s the thief, and are they one and the same?
Thynne has written a very entertaining, seasonal mystery, loaded with sub-plots, red herrings, a little romance, and many mad dash searches, it makes for light reading. It also introduces the character of Dr. Luke Constantine a very distinguished older gentleman, tournament chest player and shrewd observer of everything, and everyone, around him. Dr. Constantine uses his skills at observation, rather than the gathering of clues, to unravel mysteries. It is left to Stuart and Soames to chase down masked men and errant drunkards. Which leads me to my first quibble. A map and/or a diagram of the inn and its surroundings would have helped immensely. I had no idea what was where, and when.
There is also quite a large cast of characters, but Thynne does very well with many of her characterizations and it’s very easy to keep everyone straight. In addition to Stuart, who also acts as narrator, we have a nervous gigalo, a shy accountant’s clerk, a commercial traveler, an overly aristocratic Lord, his son two and daughters, two elderly sisters whom Stuart has rescued from the snow, a drunken, boorish Major, a “large, perfectly upholstered lady”, accompanied by her secretary and her many valuable jewels, and a very attractive woman who sees amongst the guest someone she’d rather not see. In addition, there is the inn’s staff and a surplus of chauffeurs.
And now for my second (and last) quibble. The solving of the mystery was a mixed bag of sorts. Regarding the suspects, Thynne often telegraphed who could be discounted as a suspect. Part of the mystery was easily figured out. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but…where the jewels were, who had them, and how they got them…easy as pie. But, on the other hand, Thynne obscured information vital to the reader and made it almost impossible to solve the entire mystery, and that is the only thing that gave me any real reservations about this. But She almost made up for it by introducing me to the word caravanserai.
I still felt that this is a book worth your time in reading. It’s entertaining, fast-paced, and has engaging characters. Everything you need for a Christmas crime reading binge.
My Judgment – 3.95/5
Murder Mystery Bingo – Clues & Clichés: Well oiled hinge or lock, Crime Scene: Hotel room