Tuesday, July 21, 2015
Dead Man's Quarry - Ianthe Jerrold
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.