So Pretty A Problem (1950) by Francis Duncan

Please come quickly. I’ve killed my husband!”

Amateur criminologist Mordecai Tremaine is confronted by Helen Carthallow, running from her clifftop house, confessing to the fact that she has just shot her husband, Adrian. Adrian was a controversial member of the artistic community with no shortage of enemies, but this was clearly an open and shut case. Not only was there a confession but the house was isolated with a single bridge giving access – a bridge that was being watched for the whole day, and nobody crossed it.

When cracks begin to appear in Helen’s account of what actually happened, Tremaine becomes convinced that the case is far more complicated than it at first seems. Is Helen lying? If so, why? And also, if she is lying, who on else could possibly have murdered her husband?

The Curse Of The Book Club strikes again! Me and some chums have been running our little GA book club for a while now and I think we’ve yet to find a book that we agree on, but we might agree on this one. Only not in a good way…

There are two interesting things about this book.

Number one is the structure. The story is split into three acts; 1, Query: At The Time Of The Corpse, 2, Background: Before The Corpse, and 3, Exposition: Following the Corpse. In other words the middle section is a long flashback to the events leading up to the murder. It’s interesting, but unfortunately all it does is drag things out. Nothing that I noticed is revealed in this section that hadn’t already been mentioned when the various characters cropped up in the first section and it doesn’t half drag on…

Number two is the covers for the re-issue. There seem to be two slightly different variations in what I presume are the UK and US variants. There is a subtle difference or two despite the colour scheme. No idea why.

And that’s where the interest stops. Duncan’s prose is verbose without much wit – his insistence on referring to Tremaine as “Mordecai Tremaine” whenever possible is one indicator – and the solutions to some of the problems – why was Helen lying? How did someone cross the bridge? – are the least imaginative one could think of, and border on cheating. Any book that reminds me of one of John Rhode’s low-points, The Fatal Pool, is not going to impress me. At the heart of it, the method of murder is fine, but the dressing around it to make it more complex than it seemed muddies the waters so much that it all falls a bit flat. At the end of the day, I simply didn’t care who did it, and that’s not a good sign…

This is the fifth of seven Tremaine novels – Duncan wrote twenty books in total – but I doubt I’ll be returning based on this one. Unless someone wants to convince me otherwise?

.

7 comments

  1. Ah, Mordecai Tremaine! I talked about Mordecai Tremaine a lot in my own review, but there was one interesting fact about Mordecai Tremaine that I really wanted to mention, first because Mordecai Tremaine is the detective and main character of the novel and secondly because there was some aspect of the author’s presentation of Mordecai Tremaine that annoyed me to no end. I think you brought it up yourself in your own discussion of Mordecai Tremaine, but for the moment it has eluded me.

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  2. After reading both your review and Kate’s, I’m wondering whether I enjoyed Duncan as much as I did is because I only listened to the audiobooks. Maybe I just let myself ‘zone out’ during the windy portions. And I can’t say I remember much of this. The only one of the five I do have some clear memories of is ‘Murder Has a Motive.’

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  3. […] Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery was not a fan either and makes an excellent point about the way Francis Duncan uses Mordecai Tremaine’s full name every time he refers to him. I hadn’t been conscious of that but I knew that something felt a little weird – now I know what it was! I am glad that he pointed out the differences in the covers – the yellow one seems a much better fit for the book than the blue one I have. […]

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