Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.
This was included in the Chapter 8 of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books as a Capital Crime because of its London setting. It also could've been included in the chapter where Edwards discusses "inverted mysteries," as the murder doesn't occur until the 50% mark, and the reader pretty much knows the why and the who of it (the actual wielder of the dagger is unknown, but all of the conspirators are well defined) that the second half of the book centers around Inspector Wake, and whether or not he will, to adopt the vernacular, "get his man."
I'm really not a huge fan of inverted mysteries, so that's one strike against the book from my perspective. Even so, I enjoyed the way that the author developed both setting and character. The main character, young Bobbie Cheldon, is gentry-in-waiting, while his uncle, Massy Cheldon, occupies the estate with a life interest. As is so often the case in these British mysteries, we know going in that Massy is not long for the world. He is an ungenerous uncle, making Bobbie's mother a small allowance, but largely complaining bitterly whenever he needs to spend any money. When Bobbie moans about his prospects, his response is for Bobbie to buck up and get a job in the family business, at the bottom, and work his way up.
“Bobbie’s got to realise the unpleasant fact that he must take off his coat and forget his gentility. It’s useless his thinking that I’m going to die to suit his convenience. The Cheldon estate has been his curse. Waiting for dead men’s shoes always is. I’m good for another twenty years at least, although there are moments—”
Bobbie has gotten himself tangled up with a bad crowd, the denizens of a London nightclub called "The Frozen Fang," and has fallen hard for the delectable dancer, Nancy Curzon. Nancy is dumb as a box of hammers, not that great of a dancer, extremely attractive, and fully convinced that she deserves wealth, position and all of the trappings thereof, as soon as possible. She is not interested in being married to Bobbie Cheldon, the clerk at 5 shillings a week. Bobbie Sheldon the lord of the manor at ten thousand a year, on the other hand, is mighty fine. Nosey Ruslin, a small-time crook and swindler, sees in Bobbie the chance at a bit of blackmail if he can bring about Bobbie's ascension to the manor and hand him the lady on a silver platter. All good so far. The writing was solid, and more fluid than is often the case in these Golden Age mysteries.
A murder is planned, a murder in Piccadilly:
Now if we lived in Sausage-cum-Chips we’d spend the evenings talking about a strange chap we saw standing outside the Pig and Whistle or inquiring the shortest cut to the farm where hours later the body was found. If he asked us a question or passed the time of day we’d make conversation out of it for a fortnight, and if there was a murder we’d be able to tell what the stranger looked like, and he’d be copped inside an hour. If he wasn’t a stranger we’d know all about his quarrel with his wife’s sister-in-law’s uncle and the whole village would turn out to give evidence about the knife he sharpened on the stone above the river near the church. No, <***removed name***>, if you want to do a chap in do it in London where nobody takes no notice of nobody and it ain’t anyone’s business to talk about everybody’s. If I wanted to commit murder,” the articulation was barely audible. “I’d do it in the middle of Piccadilly when there was a big traffic jam worrying the peelers. I wouldn’t go down to Muck-on- the-Ridge and have the fifty inhabitants talking of nothing else but my visit. London has always been good enough for me, and don’t you forget it.”
And a murder occurs.
At the very instant of the murder of Massy Cheldon the Piccadilly Underground was a microcosm of London.
Inspector Wake is on the case. I quite liked the good inspector - he's in the mold of Superintendent Battle, I would say. A bright detective with good instincts. Not a bumbler. He target locks on the right investigative course and makes some solid discoveries.
So, why only 2 1/2 stars?
Everything was fine until 85%, at which point the author decides to introduce a twist, with an event that is so out of character for one of the characters, it just annoyed me. Why bother with all of that character development if one is just going to toss it out the window for a plot twist? Why? Why?
In addition, I know that the golden age mystery writers aren't really concerned about justice, but there were aspects of this book that really bothered me. I'm putting this part in spoiler tags, although it doesn't completely spoil the mystery, it does spoil a significant plot resolution.
I dithered between 2 1/2 and 3 stars, but in the end, the fact that it was set in London - one of my favorite settings - and was overall pretty enjoyable, just couldn't make up for the fact that I don't really enjoy inverted mysteries, a main character behaved irrationally just to provide an unexpected plot twist, and the ending was unsatisfying.