4 Burnt Oak Lane was a dream come true, the first home for newlyweds Reginald and Molly Dane. But when Reginald decides that he needs to explore every inch of his new house, he finds something that turns the dream into a nightmare – someone has buried a corpse in the basement.
Chief Inspector Moresby is on the case, but whoever the killer was, they were very efficient – there is no trace of identification on the body, bar a metal plate in her leg. Eventually he narrows it down to the fact that the victim was, until recently, working at an exclusive school near London.
As it happens, amateur sleuth and professional a@#&hole Roger Sheringham had been working at that school just before the victim disappeared. And he happens to have written a book about it…
OK, it’s Anthony Berkeley time. Berkeley is something of a bone of contention for me. To many fans of classic detective fiction, it’s like he was the second coming. To me, however, I’ve never seen it. Admittedly, before this, I’d only read three titles. The Poisoned Chocolates Case is good, but I don’t rate it as highly as some. The Wychford Poisoning Case is poor and Jumping Jenny is, in my opinion, a horrible book. Yes, I can see what he was doing with the latter one, and I can see why some people really rate it, but the game playing takes it too far from what I expect from a mystery novel and morally, it’s just incredibly distasteful.
The books recommended to me, to change my mind, were Murder In The Basement and The Piccadilly Murder. Let’s hope the second one is on the British Library’s radar, as it’s all but unobtainable, but this one, obviously, isn’t. It was released in the Crime Classic range late last year, and it’s… perfectly fine.
It’s structured in three sections – Moresby investigates, Sheringham’s book, Moresby and Sheringham investigate, basically. The idea of Sheringham’s book seemed to be something of a novelty and I was expecting Berkeley to do something clever with it, but that never seemed to materialise, it basically just a flashback. Berkeley is playing a “whowasdunin” game for the first half of the book, before turning it into a “whodunnit”.
Having said that, the final section is one of those where it seems to be about whether the obvious villain can be caught out or not. Of course, there might be a final twist in the tale, and I’m not saying whether there is or not, but the almost ending of the story is very well done and very satisfying.
“Almost ending”? Yeah, he blows it with the last two pages, which is an excellent summary of why I generally don’t like Berkeley. I know other sleuths do the same thing on occasion, but generally it’s for a good reason. This, it just seemed that Berkeley had realised that Sheringham had been acting a bit too much like a normal sleuth and threw that bit in.
So for the first n-2 pages, a very enjoyable read. Shame about the very end…