The Affair Of The Bloodstained Egg Cosy by James Anderson

In the interval between the Wars, a crucial undercover peace talk is taking place at the family seat of Lord Burford, Alderley. A high society jewel thief, the Wraith, is on the prowl. A suspiciously large collection of guns is just asking for trouble. And somewhere in the shadows, a spy is lurking… Needless to say, murder soon strikes, but when everybody seems to be keeping secrets from everybody else, who is in a position to find the truth of the matter – most notably, what is the significance of the titular bloodstained egg cosy?

I picked this one up (Kindle again) because the series (brief though it is) intrigued me – it is clearly an attempt to emulate the country house mysteries of the time – and I’d read positive things about it. But does this book rank up there with the classic murder mysteries?

This is definitely a book of plusses and minuses, and I’m a little stretched to decide which outweighs the other.

The positives, first of all. The evocation of the period is done very well – while two of the lead characters could easy have devolved into “plucky young things”, one of them, at least, from the start has more depth to them. Similarly one of the male leads is well written. I liked as well the fact that until about two-thirds of the way through, when someone starts making sensible deductions, any of at least three characters could be the detective – although if you’ve read the blurb, which declares it as the first “BLANKETY BLANK” mystery, that kind of gives it away.

There’s also a lot going on – two murders, a jewel theft, a number of missing guns…and credit to James Anderson for resolving it all neatly. There’s a lot going on here, and he takes time to introduce us to the characters properly at the start of the book. Inevitably, some fade into the background – and it’s not a good sign when I had to go back at one point to the Dramatis Personae to check who was who’s assistant – and it is unfortunate that one of the important events is committed by one of the “background” characters. Note to mystery authors: hiding a villain by basically ignoring them so the reader forgets that they’re there is cheating.

However… the main problem with the book is that it doesn’t really know what sort of book it wants to be. Is it a homage to Christie or is it a pastiche? For most of the book, it’s played pretty straight – there are some eccentric characters and it’s written with a sense of fun, but the events are played with seriousness. There’s the odd line, notably concerning the innocence of the servants – namely that the fact that it couldn’t be one of them – that could be poking fun at the genre, but equally could be a serious attempt to gloss over the possibility of an easy solution. I’ve a nasty feeling it’s the second…

And then… the solution contains something that is almost farcical. It fits perfectly into a pastiche, but you can’t suddenly decide to make it a bit of a spoof at the last minute. The motive came a bit out of nowhere – yes, it is foreshadowed a bit, but it’s one hell of a coincidence. There are a couple of narrative tricks that I found annoying as well – one is the fact that one crucial aspect of the case points the finger directly at the murderer, but none our intrepid sleuths even mention it.

Obviously, the reader doesn’t want a conversation on the lines of

“But no-one could have…”

“That means that … somehow”

“So it must have been …. That solves that, then. Wonder how … did it.”;

halfway through the book, but any competent detective should have vocalised the thought.

I don’t think I can mention the other trick without making it clear to future readers as to who (one of?) the murderer(s?) is, but it gave me the impression that the writer thought he was being cleverer than he was.

I have to say though, that it is a good, fairly-clued mystery. In a lot of ways, it fits the aim of the blog a lot better than a number of books that I’ve reviewed and enjoyed. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book, and the solution is clever… but it had a few too many niggles for me to recommend it highly. It’s certainly worth a look, if only to prepare yourself for the sequel, The Adventure of the Mutilated Mink, that is apparently a) better than this and b) spoils this one a bit, apparently.

By the way, after umming and ahhing a bit, I’m counting this a part of the Historical Reading Challenge – it is set eighty years ago…

6 comments

  1. Very interesting Steve – I have come across these books several times but never picked one up – something of a corrective to Patrick’s more positive review just the other day – what’s a mystery fan to do with such conflicting opinions … Thanks for detailing the niggles without giving too much away. Some of the points you make probably won’t bother me too much (like the variation of the ‘Birlstone Gambit’, which was used extensively by the great Ellery Queen), though the inability to decide whether the books is a faithful celebration / facsimile or pastiche does sound a serious tonal problem

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  2. You’re right in pointing out some of this book’s problems. The problematic part about my review is that, most of the time, I write them as soon as I finish the book. That time, circumstances conspired against me and it was practically a week later that I sat down to actually write the review.

    But trust me when I say that “Mutilated Mink” is far better. It improves on the amateur detection stuff by throwing in a rival to Wilkins, who is probably the highlight of the book. The “Bright Young Things” in that book are far better realized. And the book makes a few references to what happened in the first volume, which I suspect is the main reason is why I found the puzzle aspect so underwhelming.

    But in general I found this one a fun enough read as well. It’s nowhere near the brilliance of the second book, though. Which is odd, considering that a review I just posted today makes the exact opposite claim of another series that *you* are very fond of!

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    • I’ll certainly be looking for the second one in the future – now I know what to expect, I think I’d enjoy it more. It was that (to me) sudden veering towards the bizarre in one aspect of the solution that really threw me. But with your recommendation of the sequel, I’ll certainly give it a look sometime soonish.

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    • Yes, the title is what drew me to the book. Unfortunately, the egg cosy in question isn’t exactly a crucial aspect of the mystery… but I’ll say no more on that point.

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