David Somerset, an industrial chemist, meets a mysterious syndicate in the village of East Brutton in Gloucestershire. The meeting contains threats, veiled and otherwise, and offers of significant amounts of money. What exactly does David Somerset have to sell?
When Somerset fails to return to London and his son Geoffrey disappears on the same day, the firm’s concerns are justified when the pair of them are found dead. With the villain’s (villains’ ?) sights now set on the other son, Gerald, it falls to Anthony Bathurst to track down the mysterious syndicate and unmask a cunning murderer. But he’s a little distracted by a femme fatale…
Now I’m guessing that not everyone has read every iota of my Chapter to Chapter series on this book, so I thought I’d do a normal review of the book as well.
Looking at the book in more depth than usual was rather fun, giving me a chance to note a few more bits and pieces. First off, it showed me how often Brian Flynn plugged his earlier titles – The Five Red Fingers, The Case Of The Purple Calf, The Spiked Lion, The Sussex Cuckoo, and the immediately preceding title, The Fortescue Candle, twice. And they’re mostly pretty unsubtle – “Hiding in the dark like this is just like when we hid in the dark in the case of The Fortescue Candle” – but it’s their existence that seems odd. Not sure I’ve ever seen so many in a book before, although they are all spoiler-free.
By scrutinising each chapter, Bathurst’s need to be the smartest guy in the room becomes more obvious but his pot-shots aren’t very subtle. It’s usually a bit like if I was to have a good laugh at you because you haven’t read this book. Yes, I know more about it than you, but there’s a good reason. It’s clear though that Inspector MacMorran at least is aware of this as he takes some pleasure when at one point it is Bathurst who is somewhat lost.
We also get Bathurst in love, and basically if you think Carr writes some bizarre flirting in his books, well, this is cut from the same cloth. Basically antagonism interlaced with compliments and a little innuendo. I’d love to know the aftermath of this romance, but if I recall Tread Softly correctly, it’s not mentioned. But I might be wrong…
Plotwise, this is clever. Even though at times it just seems as if it’s going to be a thriller, in a similar vein to the lacklustre Conspiracy At Angel, rest assured there is a proper mystery here and the scheme in question is rather good, and a twist on a certain mystery trope that I don’t recall seeing before. It’s more of a “what fits the facts” rather than a fairly clued mystery, but there are a couple of lovely reveals here.
No idea what the title refers to in the end – the biblical source is fairly irrelevant, possibly a deliberate red herring – and although one character is referred to as “fear and trembling in the dark” at one point, that’s about it. But that’s the only real niggle and it’s clearly a pretty minor one. And if it’s a deliberate red herring, then I retract the niggle and am rather impressed – it’s a red herring that suits Anthony Bathurst down to the ground.
If you want to know more, then do look at my (mostly) spoiler-free Chapter to Chapter posts – Parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five – or wait for an affordable copy and remember that it is Highly Recommended.