Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Dead Man's Quarry - Ianthe Jerrold

When a character introduces himself to the reader with the comment "Old maids are always perfectly cracked about their pets", I was sure that he was marked out as the murder victim. Anyone with such unpleasant & uncaring sentiments (he's just shot his sister's dog, accidentally, he wants us to believe) is obviously not long for this world. Charles Price has just returned to England from Canada when he inherits a baronetcy. He is on a cycling tour in Radnorshire with his cousin, Felix & Felix's friend Nora Browning; her father, the local doctor; her young brother, Lion, & Nora's attractive friend from art school, Isabel Donne. Sir Charles hasn't endeared himself to the staff or family at Rhyllan Hall. Felix's father, Morris, has looked after the estate for years & is a quick-tempered, hasty man who loves the estate & is upset by the way Charles dismisses long-serving staff & pursues the housemaids. Charles was sent out to Canada in his youth & hasn't been heard of in years. His reappearance, with his bluff Colonial manners & tactless blunderings, threatens to upset life at the Hall for everyone.

On the last day of the tour, as the party are leaving the Tram Inn after tea, they decide to race their bikes down a hill. When they reach the bottom, they realise that Charles has disappeared. Felix asks a motorist if he's seen a cyclist but Charles seems to have vanished into thin air. The motorist is John Christmas, the amateur sleuth first met in Jerrold's novel, The Studio Crime. Christmas is on a holiday with his cousin, Sydenham Rampson, a scientist who hates holidays & had to be dragged away from his laboratory. Christmas becomes involved in the search for Charles &, next morning, when Charles's body is found at the bottom of a nearby quarry, he can't resist investigating.

Charles has been murdered, shot in the head & then pushed into the quarry. The motive doesn't seem to be robbery as although a signet ring is missing, there was money in his wallet. It soon becomes clear that several people had a motive for killing Charles, most prominently Morris Price, who now inherits the title & the estate. Morris was seen talking to Charles at the Tram Inn & seems to be the last person to have seen him alive. Morris refuses to tell the police what they were discussing & refuses to talk about his visit to Norwich that same day. The inquest is held & Morris is accused of the murder. He doesn't help his cause by being rude & arrogant to the jury. Felix is desperate to clear his father & John Christmas is also convinced of his innocence, although, as his very practical cousin Rampson says, more because he likes Felix & the rest of the cycling party than because of any hard evidence. Every piece of evidence discovered seems to incriminate Morris & his refusal to co-operate with the investigation only makes matters worse. Christmas uncovers a complicated tale in his quest to exonerate Morris & discover the true murderer.

Dead Man's Quarry is a traditional English village mystery with all the qualities I especially enjoy. Jerrold's writing is witty & full of sly allusions to detective fiction, as when Christmas describes the hobbies of the great detectives. Mr Clino, a distant relation of the Prices who lives at the Hall in the role of librarian (& was about to be evicted by Sir Charles), is a secret fan of mystery novels & reads them to the exclusion of all else, even though he's embarrassed to be discovered reading The Purple Ray Murders rather than Scott or Thackeray. The characters are well-drawn & they're believable, especially Felix, who pines after the beautiful Isabel & ignores Nora's very obvious devotion to himself. Young Lion, with his pedantic map drawing, is also fun & Charles's sister, Blodwyn (whose dog was killed) is a poignant character who can't mourn the brother she barely knew & didn't like. The whole cast of characters are interesting & the plot, though incredibly complicated, bowls along at a great pace. I like John Christmas as a detective & I think the addition of his cousin, Syd, to pour cold water on his theories & be the often ignored voice of reason, was terrific. I'm only sorry that Ianthe Jerrold only wrote two mystery novels.

Dean Street Press have reprinted Jerrold's novels & kindly sent me a copy for review.


  1. I loved The Studio Crime and have this one waiting in the wings. She's a delightful writer -- must get to this soon! Thanks.

    1. You're welcome! It's great to see these neglected Golden Age writers finding a new audience.