The Crystal Beads Murder, which I reviewed last month, but the murder of a racehorse owner does seem to have thrown up a possible motive in this briskly-written Golden Age mystery.
When the body of Sir John Burslem is found in a ditch in Hughlin's Wood on the morning of Derby Day, the fortunes of his horse, Peep o' Day, are of almost as much interest as the discovery of his killer. Peep o' Day was the favourite for the Derby & the horse's only rival was Perlyon, owned by Sir Charles Stanyard. The two men had been seen arguing at their club about the merits of their horses but they also had more personal reasons for disliking each other. Sir Charles had been engaged to Sophie Carlford but the engagement was broken off when Sophie decided to marry Sir John, a very rich, older man. Sir John has been shot, rolled into the ditch & his car dumped some way off. Sir Charles's cigarette case is discovered in Sir John's car & he has no explanation for its presence. Detective Inspector Stoddart & Sergeant Harbord question Sir Charles but are none the wiser at the end of the conversation,
"What do you think of that young man, Harbord?"
"I really don't know." Harbord hesitated. "I thought he was all quite straight and above-board at first; but I didn't quite like his manner over the cigarette case. He wasn't quite frank about that, I am certain. But he doesn't look like a murderer."
"Murderers never do. If they did they wouldn't get the chance to murder anybody." the inspector observed sententiously.
However, what seems to be an open and shut case for Stoddart & Harbord soon becomes much more complicated. On the night of his death, Sir Charles & his wife went to the stables for a last look at Peep o' Day. When they returned home, Sir Charles suddenly decided to write a new will & it was signed in the presence of two of his servants, including his valet, Ellerby. Sir John then left to drive his car to the garage & was murdered. The will left his entire fortune to his wife, disinheriting his grown-up daughter, Pamela, who loathes her stepmother & who immediately accuses Sir Charles of murdering her father with the help of her stepmother. Sophie's behaviour is a mixture of grieving widow & very frightened woman as she tries to carry on her husband's business while also acting so strangely that her maid's suspicions are aroused. Then, the valet, Ellerby, disappears in the middle of the night & another line of enquiry has to be pursued.
Sir John's only other relative, his brother, James, is an explorer, currently trekking in Tibet. James's brash wife, Kitty, has been given an allowance by Sir John as James's investments never do very well & she arrives at the Burslem residence to tell Sophie of messages from Sir John that she has received at a seance conducted by the American medium, Winifred Margetson.
He (Sir Charles) knew a little of Mrs James Burslem's reputation, and also knew that her husband was popularly supposed to have deliberately chosen ruin hunting in Tibet to the lady's society. He had gathered too from the gossip of the day, which of late had greatly concerned itself with the Burslems and their affairs, that Sir John Burslem and his wife had had little to do with Mrs Jimmy. It was distinctly a surprise therefore to meet Pamela in the society of, and apparently on such intimate terms with, her aunt.
Kitty insinuates herself into the lives of both Sophie & Pamela but is she really concerned for them or is she more concerned for her allowance? What exactly does she know or suspect about Sir John's murder?
I enjoyed The Crime at Tattenham Corner very much. I've enjoyed all Annie Haynes' books so far & look forward to reading more of them. Her style is brisk & witty. She can pinpoint a character in just a few lines. I loved her description of three women attending Miss Margetson's seance, "All three were well dressed and evidently belonged to the moneyed class, but none of them looked particularly intelligent; their chins by one consent appeared to be absent." Her books are just the right length for a murder mystery (around 200pp) & so full of plot that it's hard to keep everything straight. I did guess the central idea of the plot but not the way it was worked out. I was concerned at some of the methods used by Stoddart & Harbord in gathering their evidence. Both of them mislead women to get information out of them but would any of that evidence have been admissible in court? I'm sure it wouldn't have been. It's an oddity in Haynes' books that her detectives are allowed to ignore proper procedure although most of the time they seem to follow the rules.
Annie Haynes is a definite discovery of the Golden Age & I'm very pleased that Dean Street Press have reprinted her books. The publisher kindly sent me a review copy of The Crime at Tattenham Corner.