The Middle of Things by J. S. Fletcher (1922)

Every evening Richard Viner read aloud to his aunt, Miss Bethia Penkridge, from detective novels which suited her taste for the sensational. Viner’s protests that events in detective stories never occur in real life is meet with several true life stories from Miss Penkridge, stories of crimes she has come across. Later, while on his evening stroll Viner is nearly run down by a young man scurrying from a dark alleyway. Turning into the alley, Viner discovers an elderly gentleman, blood covered and dead on the pavement. 

It seems that Miss Penkridge was right “that truth is stranger than fiction, and that life’s full of queer things”. And those queer things that happen in real life – they’ve finally come his way.

This is going to be a rather short review, mostly because I’m about twelve books behind right now (reading faster than I can write) and this was a fairly light-weight read.

Fletcher’s plot, with it’s basis in the real-life Tichborne Claimant case, is one that has been used many times, only better. What we have is an average man, leading an average life, who stumbles on a dead body and gets tangled up in murder, robbery, and deadly secrets. Along the way there is a down-at-the-heel school-mate accused of murder, a potential missing heir to a fortune, a young ward in potential danger, and the stirrings of love at first sight. The writing is rather Victorian and sensationalist without the overwrought hand-wringing, “oh woe is me”, and “darling forget about me—I’m not worthy of you” lines.  

The mystery will do little to challenge the habitual reader of crime fiction (I spotted the murderer immediately, as well as the accomplice). One thing the novel really has going for it is the delightful character of Miss Bethia Penkridge, Viner’s maiden aunt, who we find has some brilliant powers of deduction. With her love of detective fiction, this is a woman after my own heart.

“Nothing pleased her better than to go to bed with a brain titivated with the mysteries of the last three chapters; nothing gave her such infinite delight as to find, when the final pages were turned, that all here theories were wrong, and that the real criminal was somebody quite other than the person she had fancied.” 

An old fashioned mystery that made for an entertaining way to pass the time. While I’m in no rush to read more Fletcher, I”ll be revisiting him at some time I’m sure.

If you’re interested, or running out of books to read, Fletcher’s books are in the public domain. Most can be found in ebook and audiobook format at many internet sites such as archive.org. And there are a lot of them—over 230— in many genres, both fiction and non-fiction. 

My Judgment – 3.25/5

Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2017: Scavenger Hunt – Typewriter

Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – March # 7: Book title has word starting with “M.”

4 thoughts on “The Middle of Things by J. S. Fletcher (1922)

  1. I’ve never tried anything by Fletcher but then I’ve never really seen a full five star review on any of his titles. Always seen him as more of an Edwardian writer rather than true GAD.
    Also 12 books behind on reviews!! Seriously in awe of your reading speed!

      1. Yes…this year😁.
        I think the only full reviews for Fletcher I found with anything good to say were from John Norris, who thought his writing mediocre and formulaic, and Curtis Evans who seemed to enjoy those he’s read.

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