George Lassiter, destitute and delirious, finds himself looking for shelter on a dark London night. Breaking into a strange house, a house that seems oddly familiar to him, he witnesses the murder of a beautiful woman. But when the police arrive the following day, the corpse has disappeared.
Lassiter becomes convinced it was delirium, even his long lost friend Jack Haldean agrees. But when Haldean helps George trace a stolen inheritance, the trail leads back to the mysterious house, the house he grew up in when very young. While the latest “Jack The Ripper” stalks the London streets, Lassiter and Haldean find intrigue aplenty in Lassiter’s new household. The family business is building aeroplanes but with the death of an investor, finances are balance on a knife edge – and more deaths are going to follow…
Attendees of the Bodies From The Library conferences will recall with delight Dolores Gordon-Smith’s talks, speaking with genuine enthusiasm and good humour about G K Chesterton and Max Carrodos amongst others – by no means my favourite writers but she came close to making me reconsider, well, with Chesterton at least. Her enthusiasm for the genre was clear to everyone there, and indeed, to everyone who’s read one of her books. She’s written ten Jack Haldean titles, of which this is the third, along with two spy novels set in the Great War featuring Anthony Brooke and a standalone, Serpent’s Eye. And every time I read one, I kick myself for leaving it so long between titles.
And that’s the case with this one, despite the fact that it contains my single least favourite mystery plot device ever. It’s a plot device that ruined a book (for me, others seem to like it) by one of my favourite authors and it’s to Dolores’ credit that it didn’t ruin this book. Indeed, it is fairly clued – there’s a rather clever bit involving lipstick – and while the reader can guess parts of what’s going on, there is such a lot going on here that you’re never going to spot all of it.
I think there’s probably more of a nod towards the adventure thrillers of the 1920s and 1930s than the more formal whodunit novels of the time, with at least one rather sensational idea here that I don’t think Christie, for example, would have gone anywhere near. Not a bad thing, to be clear, but it’ll certainly surprise the reader when they come across it.
As I said, there is so much going on here, it’s quite frankly amazing that the author makes it all dovetail together. There are some aspects that don’t get quite enough time – the serial killer story doesn’t really feature too much until the denouement, but does tie in rather cleverly to the big picture.
Overall, this doesn’t quite match The Chessman, my favourite of the Haldean stories to date, but it is a lot of fun and at this precise moment in time, what more could you ask for?