October 1936 and John Stableford is on a train for a golfing weekend organised by a London banking house for their favoured customers. After having an argument and then promptly falling in love with his travelling companion, and then meeting a family of three, to nobody’s great surprise, they all find themselves guests at the hotel – the only guests – for the weekend.
But needless to say, soon the opportunity to play two foursomes is curtailed when one of the party is smashed round the head with his own golf club – and with perfect timing, a storm hits and the hotel is cut off from the mainland. Stableford adopts the role of sleuth, as he is the only member of the party who couldn’t have committed the murder. Can he find the killer before they strike again?
JJ over at The Invisible Event recommended this to when we recorded our episode of In GAD We Trust, discussing modern authors writing in the Golden Age style. I managed to find a cheap copy of it – it’s by no means impossible – and, well…
I don’t love it as much as JJ did. That’s certainly true. There’s a mild dose of meta-fiction knocking around here, and to be honest, I’m not sure why. When I get round to writing my own version of the Decalogue, one of my Commandments will be “No one should say – if this were a detective story then FILL IN THE BLANK – but it’s not, this is real life” or some such. Here, it’s different, as the characters talk as if they are in a detective novel, and as such had better obey the tropes. This is exemplified by this in the fourth chapter with this line:
“We are in the middle of a detective novel, or rather we are right at the beginning. Perhaps we are in the fourth chapter, Mr Stableford? What’s missing is only the main point of the story — the murder!”
You might find this hilarious. You might not. Don’t worry, the book isn’t littered with this meta bits and bobs, but there are a few.
There are other aspects of this that creep into the narrative, such as Stableford deciding that a character called Dr Holmes won’t be his Watson (ho, as they say, ho) and the instant romance between Stableford and wronged woman Harriet makes the romance in Carr’s The Case Of The Constant Suicides look like a long and drawn-out affair. On the other hand, there are some bits that seem out of place in the genre, notably a reasonable amount of nudie modelling and some implied sex (!)
But this is window-dressing that I’m talking about here, what about the mystery itself? Well, you have to turn a blind eye to the fact that a 50% chance of something is, I think, a massive overestimate, and the fact that nobody noticed the killer popping off to do the murder seems unlikely as when playing a foursome, people tend to move together, or so I believe.
I certainly enjoyed the book – I felt that it could have taken a bit more time to develop things – but the meta elements didn’t really work for me. It’s an entertaining and relatively short book, and I’d be curious to read more – this is the only translated title, from the original German, to date.