“I think that there’s a brain behind this conspiracy that’s a great deal cleverer than yours, Mr Anthony Bathurst.”
Anthony Bathurst is called in by Sir Austin Kemble, Commissioner of Scotland Yard, regarding the death of John Blundell, a renowned cryptography. Missing for a fortnight, he is found in Bushey Forest, savagely beaten and slashed by what seem to be claws. A note in his pocket describes an “animal that is not normal. It is spiked.” But the cause of death was not his injuries – he had been poisoned by cyanide.
Bathurst soon finds a link to a second death, another man with the same injuries, save for the slashed face. Things soon take a shocking turn, when a report is received of the death of Hugh Guest. Guest was the nephew of Blundell, and had recently met with Kemble regarding his uncle’s whereabouts. But Guest has also been found poisoned – locked inside his own bedroom…
So why am I reviewing The Spiked Lion for a second time? Surely it can’t be a shameless plug for the re-release of the next set of ten books by Brian from Dean Street Press, released in paperback and ebook tomorrow, Monday 5th October. Well, obviously it is, but why pick this one?
Well, as I established elsewhere, the version I originally read was an abridgement of the original, and not just that two pages were missing from the dodgy scan. This isn’t – I made sure that we got hold of a copy of the UK original for the re-release – and I thought I’d take another look. The fact that it was one of the earliest from this set that I’d read meant I’d forgotten quite a lot about it – if you read my introduction WHEN you buy it (hint, hint) you’ll see that I mostly bang on about the various versions of it, rather than the content. Hence, as it was one of titles that Dean Street Press sent out for review, I decided to read it again. Also, as I’ve said before, at the moment I’m finding more and more that I need to read books that I know I’m going to enjoy – and I always enjoy Brian’s work.
I really like this one – it keeps moving all over the place, plot-wise. It’s Brian’s last (as far as I know) attempt at a proper locked-room mystery, and, to be absolutely fair, I wouldn’t buy it for that part alone. It’s pretty obvious how it’s done, and it’s only a small aspect of the plot. I found myself going into the book pretty clueless as to who had done what to who and why (although the murder by Spiked Lion had stuck with me, which gave me a hand with spotting the murderer.)
There’s a really nice backstory, with a decent twist, behind the whole thing, the sort of plot you only get in Golden Age murder mysteries. This isn’t a bad thing – think of Death On The Nile. The hoops jumped through by the villain of the piece are utterly bonkers if you think about it – but the reader is having such fun, they don’t question it. Well, there are different hoops here, and one has to question exactly whether at least one character is expecting to gain is worth the time and effort being put into the whole thing, but the reader finds themselves going with the flow, rather than picking holes.
[I should note – I’m not claiming this is as good as Death On The Nile – but that’s only because practically nothing is as good as Death On The Nile.]
So lots of mysterious murders, a charming sleuth, a plan that is ridiculous but only if you think about it too much (so, like most murder mysteries), a locked room, a mythical animal… well, you’ve only got a day to wait to read it for yourself! I’ll say no more…