London, a party in St John’s Wood. Artist Laurence Newtree is hosting a soiree which includes on its guest list one John Christmas, an amateur criminologist. During the party, the dead body of Newtree’s neighbour is discovered – he has been stabbed but was seen by a reliable witness half an hour after his apparent time of death. No one in the party could have gained access to the flat – and who was the mysterious man in a fez seen lurking around the area in the fog?
Inspector Hemshow is on the case – assisted by John Christmas – but he is convinced that the witness was the murderer, simply lying about having seen the victim alive. But Christmas isn’t convinced that matters are as simple as that? But can he find the real killer before an innocent man pays the price?
Well, that was an unexpectedly pleasant surprise. I’ll be honest, I’ve never been quite convinced by Carr and Christie’s contemporaries. They were (to my admittedly limited experience) always falling short of the two classics, some by quite some distance. But I’m trying to expand my Golden Age reading in preparation for the upcoming Bodies From The Library event, so when Dean Street Press asked me to review this re-release for them, I jumped at the chance.
Ianthe Jerrold wrote a grand total of two detective books, this in 1929 and Dead Man’s Quarry in the following year. I’ve absolutely no idea why she stopped at two, as this one was well received at the time. I’ll admit, I was a little trepidatious after The Cornish Coast Murder but I need not have been. This is a little cracker. Christmas is an interesting investigator, going by instinct and then finding evidence to fit his theory, or discarding it for a new one. New wrinkles are introduced as the story progresses and the plot is a nicely complex one, containing at least one element that would never be used in modern fiction but fits the feel of this one nicely. The cast of characters is eclectic but never falls too far into caricature and each is given just enough page-time so as to remain fresh in both the reader’s memory and on the list of suspects. Parts of the plot are a little on the obvious side (or they were to me at least) but the structure reminds more than a little of Carr.
I don’t recommend it if you’re only going to pick it up for the “impossible crime” side of things, as that’s very straightforward, but if you’re looking for something that is an entertaining read and is reminiscent of the greats of the Golden Age – a true slice of long lost “classic crime”, then look no further. Highly Recommended.