Roger Sheringham’s Crime Club consists of six members who have passed a stringent test proving their crime solving expertise: “There was a famous lawyer, a scarcely less famous woman dramatist, a brilliant novelist who ought to have been more famous than she was, the most intelligent (if not the most amiable) of living detective-story writers, Roger Sheringham himself, and Mr. Ambrose Chitterwick, who was not famous at all, a mild little man of no particular appearance…”
The members are delighted when Sheringham proposes they attempt to solve the murder of Joan Bendix, who met her death after eating from a box of poisoned chocolates. It’s a case that has so far stumped the police. The members agree that they will, by whatever means they so choose, independently investigate and formulate a theory regarding the identity of murderer. One week later, over six successive nights, each member present their theories. As the members take turns presenting, it becomes clear that none of their solutions agree. Each quickly invalidates the work of the previous investigators, until the final solution brings it all to a rather interesting conclusion.
The strength of this story is not so much in the mystery, but in the slow unveiling of each character’s proposed solution. Each member builds in the other’s findings, then reveals the flaw and proceeds to tear theory and deductive methods to shreds.
Berkeley is having great fun here. He not only satirizes the fictional amateur sleuth, but lampoons detective fiction as a whole. Theories and accusations fly as members of the Circle themselves are accused, and one manages to build an irrefutable case against himself. And so, the biggest failing in detective fiction is uncovered—that there is only one interpretation of a given fact, and that the detective is always assumed to have interpreted it correctly. Basically, anything can be “proven” if you look at the facts in a certain way.
In typical fashion Berkeley’s characterizations are ruthless. I especially love the way he portrays Roger Sheringham as the far from the infallible detective, and allows him to look petty, shallow, and often ridiculous. But he has no for the other members of the Circle either.
I developed my theory of the how and who, but of course I was wrong. Oh, I was right, but much like Berkeley’s amateur detectives, I was also very wrong. And, without giving anything away, Berkeley’s ending, and the visual that it evokes of the dumbfounded members, is perfect.
My Judgment – 4.5/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza—2014 Bingo—Read one book that features food/cooks in some way