It’s the Christmas pantomime season and the Henri de Benyat theatre company is performing Dick Whittington at the Pavilion in Burlington-on-Sea. The “Principle Boy” in this case is played Norma de Grey, an actress who is far from popular with the rest of the cast. So when she is poisoned on stage during a performance, there’s no shortage of suspects. But only the actor playing the Cat was physically close enough to have done it – then the Cat is also found poisoned. Could anyone else have been responsible? Dr. Harry Manson, Scotland Yard’s Yard’s leading scientific investigator, is called in to investigate.
Soon after, Manson is asked to examine the circumstances of another case, this one involving a series of suspicious fires which may be part of an insurance fraud. When coincidences emerge that seem to link the two cases it is up to Manson and his scientific methods to find the proof.
Readers fond of mysteries featuring scientific investigation, such as those of R. Austin Freeman’s Dr. Thorndyke, will appreciate the detail Dr. Manson’s investigations. I found this aspect of the book was fascinating. Forensic science in the 1940s obviously had fewer, less sophisticated techniques available, but it is impressive how the Radfords are able to use it to their advantage. Dr. Manson and his lab analyze the hairs inside the Cat costume to establish gender, determine the amount of a product burnt by weighing ash, as well as the presence of a rare chemical element in oil – amazing!
One characteristic of the Radford stories is the “Interlude”. These are pauses in the action placed at various points in the novel and addressed directly to the reader. Each one informs the reader of certain clues present in the preceding pages, and asking whether we can put together what we have learned. By keeping these in mind, by the end we should be able to solve the entire mystery. It’s fun to try to test yourself, going up against the brain of Dr. Manson and his team. I was able to solve portions, but the ultimate solution – who the murderer was and why – eluded me until the reveal.
I have a couple of quibbles. The first is the Radford’s tendency choose, not only the least likely suspect, but a suspect who is so peripheral to the story that the reader has little chance of landing on them as the culprit.
And then there is Dr. Manson’s frustrating way of holding back information from his team.
Whatever Doctor Manson expected from the inquiries which he had set on foot he did not convey to his officers. Nor could these officers see much point in them.”
Doctor Manson said no word. And the inspector knew better than to ask for information which was not given voluntarily. He made the journey in a very curious and puzzled state of mind.”
There were several incidents of this kind and I found it quite puzzling as to why, other than as a means towards extending the mystery.
Still, it was very entertaining. I really enjoyed this one and with the recent release of three more books by the Radfords, I’m looking forward to reading more in the Dr. Manson series.
My Judgment – 3.75/5
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