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Death Comes to Cambers

Death Comes to Cambers - E.R. Punshon

Death Comes to Cambers is mentioned in Chapter 7 of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 books by Martin Edwards as an example of "Murder at the Manor," along with half a dozen Christie mysteries, including The Secret of Chimneys, The Body in the Library, and Dead Man's Folly. This is Punshon's 6th outing for sleuth Bobby Evans, a gentleman policeman with Scotland Yard, who with his relative Lady Hirpool is visiting at Cambers on the day that Lady Cambers is found strangled in a field after sneaking out of the house in the wee hours of the night.

 

This is a classic puzzle mystery, where the author, Punshon, lays down the clues for reader and detective, and the reader attempts to figure out whodunnit before the reveal. It's a decent puzzle - all of the clues fit together at the end, with a bit of thought, and there is a silly, but sort of fun, alibi manufactured by the murderer.

 

There is also a lot of social stuff going on in the background of the book. Lady Cambers has found herself torn between science and religion - she is financing Eddy Dene, an oddly brilliant young man from the village (his parents are the grocers) who dabbles in archeology and believes that he has found fossils in a field outside the village which will prove that what separates man from ape is a mutation in the structure of the hand that happened right there, in England. On the other side of the fight is the vicar, who is a religious fanatic. Somehow Punshon foresaw and wrote the showdown between Ken Hamm and Bill Nye all the way back in 1935, which is amusing. The vicar excommunicates Dene for his apostasy, and threatens to excommunicate Lady Cambers as well.

 

In addition to this debate, we have the managing Lady Camber losing control over her household. Her husband is shacked up with a village woman; her nephew, to whom she has left her fortune (maybe - there are shenanigans around the will) is refusing to marry the woman she has hand-selected for him, and her maid is arguing with her like they are, quelle horreur, equals. Her jewels, including a pearl that is known as "the Cleopatra Pearl," along with the rest of her jewels worth thirty thousand pounds, go missing the night she is murdered - along with a shady American millionaire who has been quite miffed that Lady Camber won't sell him her pearl, since he has the match to it and his wife wants a pair of earrings.

 

The pace is a bit plodding, but overall, I found this detective story to be serviceable, if not riveting, and sufficiently engaging that I would read more by Punshon. He's no Agatha, or even Wentworth, but I enjoyed the puzzle, and did not figure out whodunnit, although I nailed one of the clues/plot points immediately - long before any of the detectives.