Dr Roger Lavington is new to the village of Sutton Boldon, having only been there for six months. He’s an odd sort of fellow. After all, should you discover a body that has been freshly shot to death with an exceptionally guilty-looking young woman on the scene, would you a) ask her what happened; b) tell her to wait for the police to come and straighten everything out; c) at least ask her what her name is; or d) don’t bother asking her anything but concoct a complex plan to get her out of the house that involves a brief impersonation of your cousin, including an appearance in the village am-dram production, before she disappears out of your life without you ever bothering to ask her name or whether she was the murderer. Yup, you’ve guessed it…
Thus begins Annie Haynes first mystery novel, recently re-issued by those nice folks at Dean Street Press, originally published in 1925. What follows… well, that would be telling.
To recap briefly. Annie Haynes wrote twelve mystery novels, four featuring Inspector Stoddart (including The Man With The Dark Beard and The Crystal Beads Murder), three featuring Inspector Furnival, who I’ve yet to sample but will soon and five standalone mysteries, of which this is one. It’s one of those mysteries that has you wondering who the sleuth is – is it our somewhat oddly behaving doctor, or will the police finally sort things out?
It’s a jolly good read, this one. The pages keep turning and the killer is well chosen, and while the behaviour of the lead is odd initially – in fact, a character later on actually comments:
“If he had had a grain of common sense when he found her hiding behind the window-curtains, he would have said to her “My good girl, did you kill this man or did you not?””
– it still veers on the side of believability, unlike one of the character’s behaviour in The Man With The Dark Beard. It’s a reflection of the sensationalist style that tended to occur in crime novels before it faded in the thirties, but here it basically works. And if you can put that to one side, it’s a cracking read.
There are other niggles – Dr Lavington is not only stupid, but… No, that’s too close to a spoiler. Needless to say, even Dame Agatha couldn’t make that trick work when she tried it. And who on earth calls their house “The Bungalow”? It’s like calling where I live “The House”! Was it seriously the only bungalow in the village? And finally – The Bungalow Mystery. The Man With The Dark Beard. Ms Haynes wasn’t the best at creating catchy titles for her books, was she?
But I digress. This definitely ranks with the better of the rediscovered lost Golden Age classics out there and is definitely worth a look, and not just as a piece of history. Highly Recommended.