Tuesday, May 26, 2015
The Studio Crime - Ianthe Jerrold
An indeterminate noise from the studio above, belonging to Gordon Frew, sends Dr Merewether up to investigate. He has attended Frew in a minor illness & insists on going alone. He soon returns, with a reassuring message from Frew that all's well & an invitation to the party to go up to his studio in half an hour. When they do so, they discover Frew dead, murdered, with a knife sticking out of his back. The police doctor believes that Frew has been dead for at least an hour but Merewether sticks to his story that Frew was alive & well half an hour before. Inspector Hembrow allows Christmas to assist with the investigation as they've worked together before. Merewether's position looks grim as he sticks to his story that Frew was alive half an hour before his body was discovered & Christmas begins an investigation into the murder & the life & character of Gordon Frew.
Frew was an unpleasant man, a poseur who published books that he didn't write himself & aspired to be a collector of everything from Persian rugs to Oriental weapons. Several people visited him that night, seen by Newtree's servant, Greenaway, from the man in the fez to his valet, Greenaway's tearaway son, Ernie, & Miss Pandora Shirley, who modeled for Frew & had recently broken off her relationship with Ernie. Christmas dismisses Ernie & Miss Shirley early on & concentrates his attention on the mysterious man in the fez. However, it appears that Frew, besides being unpleasant & phoney, may also have dabbled in fraud & a little blackmail among other crimes. Christmas' investigations uncover more of Frew's background & the more he discovers, the more disreputable Frew seems to have been. The red herrings come thick & fast before Christmas & Hembrow make a surprising discovery that leads them to the solution of the mystery.
I enjoyed The Studio Crime very much. The plot was incredibly convoluted but very entertaining. Jerrold certainly has a vivid way of describing characters & the psychological motivations of several of the characters were very interesting & well-portrayed. I particularly enjoyed Serafine Wimpole. I have a weakness for sensitive female novelists (I much prefer Harriet Vane to Peter Wimsey & wish Dorothy L Sayers had written more books with Harriet) & Serafine's no-nonsense character is shaken a little by her desire to save Dr Merewether from the consequences of his actions (as she sees them). Her quick thinking in an episode surely inspired by Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White is terrific & the interplay between Serafine & her aunt is a lot of fun. London in the gloomy fog is also very atmospheric & Hembrow & Christmas visit some very disreputable parts of the city in their investigations.
Published in 1929, The Studio Crime was the first of two mysteries by Ianthe Jerrold, a member of a family of writers, journalists & actors. Ianthe Jerrold wrote many books over her long career & the success of The Studio Crime led to her being invited to join the Detection Club, the famous group of Golden Age crime writers that included Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers & Anthony Berkeley. I've just started reading Martin Edwards' new book about the Detection Club, The Golden Age of Murder, & in the book, there's a photo of Ianthe Jerrold with E R Punshon, author of the Bobby Owen series (coincidentally about to be reprinted by Dean Street Press, publishers of Jerrold's novels). This edition of the novel also has an informative Introduction by Curtis Evans, who blogs at The Passing Tramp.
Dean Street Press kindly sent me a review copy of The Studio Crime & I'm looking forward to reading Jerrold's other crime novel, Dead Man's Quarry.