Everyone was convinced that Mrs Bentley has murdered her husband. He died with his body riddled with arsenic, arsenic that was present in the fly papers that she had bought, and was found in his medicine, his food and his lemonade – basically everywhere apart from his toothpaste. The press think her guilty, even her lawyers think she committed murder. The only man who thinks otherwise is the young novelist Roger Sheringham.
A study of the psychology of crime, Sheringham is convinced of her innocence and sets out, with his chum Alec in tow, to prove her innocence, conducting a secretive investigation to bring the truth to light. The only problem is that perhaps Sheringham has too many ideas – you never know, one of them might be right…
The Wychford Poisoning Case was the second Roger Sheringham novel written by Anthony Berkeley (Cox) but it has been rarely reprinted since its initial publication. One reason for this is spanking.
Let me explain – the book features along with Sheringham and Alec Grierson (who, by the way, abandons his recently married wife to go on this escapade with Roger), Sheila Purefoy, a childhood friend of Alec, who is such a wilful individual, she can only be brought to heel by Alec putting her over his knee and giving her a good smacked bottom. I’d almost say that the chapter has to be read to be believed, but there’s a problem with that – you’d have to read the rest of the book too.
I found this book very hard to like. Alec is an unbearable character, a dinosaur of a character, even for the time of writing. Berkeley seemed to think his and Roger’s antics were hilarious, but they aren’t remotely so. Anyone who finds Anthony Bathurst an overbearing show-off (and there are those of you out there) can I introduce you to Roger Sheringham, a know-it-all (although he rarely does) in love with the sound of his own voice? Bathurst has charm, Sheringham however… I’ve not read any of Cox’s work beyond The Poisoned Chocolates Case, and I doubt I want to read anymore if they feature this arse.
The rest of the book is disappointing, too. Structured a little like The Poisoned Chocolates Case, where a solution is presented only to be shot down, but almost all of it is Roger, Alec and Sheila talking about matters, rather than getting on and actually doing much detecting. And the final solution is a crushing disappointment, as well as being utterly un-clued – the penultimate solution is much more interesting, although that isn’t saying much.
I did want to like this one, I really did. Is there a Roger Sheringham novel that will redeem this character for me?