Following his success in The Studio Crime, John Christmas is taking a break in the countryside with his forensic friend Sydenham Rampson when he encounters a bunch of cyclists who are missing one of their number. Sir Charles Price, the newly returned heir to Rhyllan Hall, vanished while mending a puncture. He’s soon found at the bottom of a nearby quarry, but it wasn’t the fall that killed him – the bullet in the head took care of that.
All of the evidence points towards Morris Price, Charles’ uncle who was destined to take the title until Charles was found. But Christmas has a feeling – nothing more – that things aren’t as simple as that. But as he sifts through an array of clues and red herrings, things seem to point to Morris’ guilt…
Another re-release from Dean St Press, and I’d like to thank them a) for letting me have a review copy and b) for finding it in the first place. There are a few sources for classic crime at the moment – The Murder Room has had an impressive line-up for a while and the British Library are also finding more and more of these lost classics. Of course, some of these have been lost for good reason, but that is certainly not the case here.
It’s an utterly charming book and in some ways ahead of its time. Christie had only written ten books at this stage, and her style still hadn’t settled down, and Carr released his first book in the same year as this one. But this book, and The Studio Crime, deserve a space on the shelf right alongside these two masters of the classic mystery.
It’s a complex plot and I’d be impressed if the reader works out what’s going on. Even when Christmas lists the important clues near the end (and up to this point, it’s been up to the reader to sort them out for themselves), I expect most readers will leap to the wrong conclusion that I did.
But before we get to that part, we have an array of delightful central characters and strong supporting characters. Jerrold doesn’t allow any character to be a forgettable cardboard cut-out, even if there are one or two stereotypical country yokels – but they’re mostly there just to give directions.
This was (apparently) the last mystery that Jerrold wrote, which is a real shame. Curtis Evans, in his fascinating introduction, teases the possibility that there may be additional undiscovered work in the genre, but in the meantime, let’s be thankful to the publishers for letting these two see the light of day once again. Highly Recommended.