In the reading room of the British Museum, Henry Fairhurst is playing Sherlock Holmes, hypothesising about his fellow readers. Only one of them, Julius Arnell, has a fairly distinctive quality about him – he’s just died, poisoned by a sugared almond. But who would want to kill a retired professor of Elizabethan literature?
Well, technically, who would kill two such academics in the same place, as it seems a colleague of Arnell had previously suffered the same fate. As Inspector Shelley and Henry begin their own investigations into the murders, a third death, also at the library makes things even more confusing, making our heroes combine forces to hunt down a dangerous killer.
I’m going to have to be a little briefer than usual, as I’ve been on holiday and have got a fair few books to review – I might have to combine some into mini-reviews, let’s see.
Anyway, the open half of the book is very strong. The two sleuths are good contrasts, and Henry’s gradual transfer from hen-pecked (by his sister) to heroic is fun to read. The mystery develops strongly, with intriguing developments and interesting suspects.
And then, clearly Rowland – a writer of 21 Inspector Shelley mysteries from 1935 to 1950 – got his copy of “How To Write Like Agatha Christie” mixed up with his copy of “How To Write Like John Buchan” and the book rapidly plunges downhill. The mystery element is thrown completely out of the window to be replaced by a rather idiotic master-plan by a rather idiotic villain. A massive coincidence is needed to track the villain down, and while the development of Henry is still fun, at this point, not much else is.
So, a very good start, but a fairly poor ending. Not really sure why this was chosen by the British Library to reprint – I really hope it’s not the best of Rowland’s output – it’s Worth A Look but don’t get your hopes up. Oh, and ignore the blurb, it’s rather spoiler-tastic.