Robert Saunderson is not a pleasant man. Having Harold Courtenay in his debt, he takes advantage of the situation to… well, take advantage of his sister, Anne. But these aren’t the only people who have reason to despise Saunderson. And one morning, at Lord Medchester’s country mansion, he is found in the summer house – shot dead. The only clue is a few crystal beads found in his pocket – beads that weren’t there the first time the body was searched.
Enter Inspector Stoddard and his associate Harbord to find the killer. But they find they have competition from the local police in the shape of Superintendent Mayer. The killer’s work isn’t finished however – they are more than willing to kill to keep their identity safe. For once, finding the killer first might not be the wisest course of action…
Dean St Press have revived the work, so far, of Ianthe Jerrold (see here and here) and E R Punshon (see here and here) and the latest author for them is Annie Haynes. Haynes wrote twelve novels in total – well, eleven and a half. Who Killed Charmian Kerslake? was published after her death, as was The Crystal Beads Murder, which was finished by an anonymous friend – postulated convincingly by Curtis Evans as being Anthony Gilbert aka Lucy Beatrice Malleson. It seems odd to start reviewing a novelist by looking at their final work (well, part-work) but there’s a good reason for it – this is the one that Dean St Press sent me. So I figured, why not?
It’s a jolly good read, this one. The plot never stands still, with an intriguing second murder that stops the investigation into the first one getting tired. We see some chapters from the point of view of some characters and while some of them would have made life much easier for themselves (and the police) if they’d told them their secrets, but this is the Golden Age, so acting sensibly isn’t always the normal behaviour.
Stoddard is a fairly straightforward investigator, with no noticeable quirks, but he’s charming enough company and, as I said, the plot keeps moving forward so there’s no time to get bored. Some Golden Age books drag badly in the middle section, and while the easiest solution is the one used here, namely to bung another murder in, it works a treat, especially due to the choice of victim.
One thing though – it’s not a fair play mystery. While Stoddard solves part of the mystery by himself, the actual identity of the murderer is revealed when someone stumbles across a photograph of the killer holding a metaphorical smoking gun. And the motive is revealed when a piece of paper that spells it out is revealed. Only the reader doesn’t find out any details until the big reveal.
At the end of the day, the bit about the appearing beads is more interesting than the identity of the killer, but nevertheless, this is still an excellent book that didn’t deserve to be lost. I’ll be looking forward to more of the Haynes re-issues in future, but in the meantime, this is Highly Recommended.