Samuel Cork was a very ill man. Rheumatoid arthritis, virtually bedbound – his life was a life of pain, a pain he was willing to share with his daughter, Cicely and his god-fearing maid, Agatha. At his beck and call, twenty-four hours a day, Cicely has no life of her own, but she wants one – she has fallen in love with local vet Donald Galt, but will not marry him while her father still needs her. And then Donald suggests that if her father is in so much pain, perhaps something should be done to ease his suffering… permanently.
When Cork does die, from an overdose of morphine, suspicion falls on Cicely, Agatha, Donald and Cork’s doctor, the absent-minded Dr Critchley. Unfortunately for them, Superintendent Rolfe of the local constabulary decides to investigate, despite his own success being picking winners in a horse race. Unfortunately for the murderer, eventually Rolfe, faced with more and more dead ends, decides to enlist Scotland Yard in the form of Detective Inspector Cheviot Burmann…
This is the seventh mystery novel by Belton Cobb [ADDENDUM: no, actually, it’s the eighth as it mentions Inspector Burmann’s Busiest Day], and the ninth book that I’ve read by him. He’s an author I enjoy reading (obviously) but my word, he does love his poison, doesn’t he? Six of the nine titles so far have been poisonings and it’s clear from other titles that there are more out there. Burmann even says how much he prefers investigating poisonings, seeing them as more of a puzzle than other murder methods.
The idea of a puzzle is on full display here, with Cobb constraining himself to four suspects – Cicely, Agatha, Dr Critchley and Galt – with an outside bet on Cork committing suicide and does as good a job as possible with that situation. The characters are nicely built up – Cicely cannot bring herself to believe that Galt was involved, as she’s so in love with him, despite Galt clearly being after her money. His disintegration as he pulls away from her as it becomes clear that Cicely doesn’t actually have any money gives him more depth than your average Golden Age cad/bounder. Dr Critchley has a few secrets that leak out as the book progresses and you understand the bind he finds himself in – although given what is going on, playing semantic word games with the man suspecting you of murder seems a bit daft. There are a few issues with his doctoring, as well, such as not telling a patient what illness they are suffering from… Only Agatha comes across as a bit one-dimensional, a fire-and-brimstone Christian who has some firm beliefs but not much else. She does get a nice scene towards the end though. There’s a recurring theme of characters caught in a situation that they can’t see a way out of, which is a nice link between their motivations.
There are problems – the truth only comes out when someone who should have been interviewed properly is finally asked the right questions, and perhaps Cobb constrained himself too much, as it’s not too hard to spot the murderer, although the method takes a bit more working out. Nonetheless, this is an engrossing read, with a surprising amount of discussion of Euthanasia (with a capital E). Definitely worth a look, if you can find a copy. Which you probably can’t. Sorry.