Time to either take the high road or the low road to the Scottish Highlands – Duchlan Castle on the shores of Loch Fyne, to be precise. Mary Gregor, the sister of the laird, lies dead inside her bedroom. The door is, of course, locked securely from the inside, the weapon is missing and the only clue is a small herring scale found on her body. Inspector Dundas arrives to investigate, but his first problem – apart from the locked room, of course – is the victim herself. Was she the saint that some profess – or was she some sort of demonical matriarch to the household?
Dundas, to be fair, is out of his depth, but luckily amateur sleuth Eustace Hailey is in the area – although he is initially reluctant to help out. But as time passes, and the only development is the rumours of the mythical fish creatures in the loch, Hailey finds himself drawn into the case, if only to defend people he believes innocent from Dundas’ accusations. But can he find a killer who can – and does – strike without trace again and again?
Anthony Wynne was the pseudonym of Robert McNair Wilson, who wrote over twenty five mysteries featuring (I think) Eustace Hailey. Information on him is hard to find – for example, he only rates one mention in Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder and there’s not much information in that mention. His books have been rarely, if ever, reprinted, but Murder Of A Lady (aka The Silver Scale Mystery) is one of his better known works, better being a relative term of course. He wrote locked room mysteries, but for some reason, his work vanished without much of a trace.
Until Martin Edwards and the British Library reprinted this one. And it’s definitely worth a look. It takes a small cast of characters and ricochets suspicion backwards and forwards. The story never stands still and pulls two particularly surprising twists to keep the narrative from stagnating. My attention was never far from the plot and I was very intrigued to see how things would play out.
It’s not perfect, by any means. Certain aspects – the bruises around a character’s throat are ignored for a long period of the plot, as if this is perfectly acceptable behaviour – are odd, although not as odd as the method of murder. The herring scale idea is really rather beautiful, but I don’t really see how the method would have worked without massive luck and a rather stupid pathologist. And the method of hiding the killer is not one of my favourites. Oh, and Hailey is rather dull (and his initial refusal to investigate does make him seem a bit of an arse.)
But as I said, I was gripped all the way through and while the ending is a bit of a letdown, relative to the atmosphere of other parts of the tale, it didn’t detract from the fact that I enjoyed this one a lot. Well Worth A Look.
By the way, it’s not available on Amazon at the moment – it’s not officially out until early next year, but it’s on the shelves of UK bookshops already.