Husband and wife crime-writing team G D H and Margeret Cole (1889-1959 and 1893-1980) are perhaps not as well known or celebrated today as they deserve to be. Considering that they had books chosen both for Queens Quorum (Supt Wilson’s Holiday 1928) and for the Haycraft Queen Cornerstones list (The Brooklyn Murders 1923 by G D H Cole alone) it is rather surprising that thus far their books have not been reprinted in recent years. Certainly their early books in particular are of a high quality, though by the late 1930’s they tend towards rather more mundane police procedural stories and the satire evident in their early books all but disappears. All their books were published by Collins in the UK and this one boasts the distinction of being the 3rd book issued under the Collins Crime Club imprint.
For this, the eighth Supt. Wilson mystery, the Coles adopt the mechanism pioneered by Wilkie Collins in The Moonstone and used by Dorothy L Sayers in The Documents In The Case, which was published the same year. Here then the story is related entirely through letters, notes, newspaper clippings and reports of conversations, apart from a short narrative section at the end of the book when the detective explains the mechanism of the crime. Fortunately, this method doesn’t prevent the intricacy of the plotting being conveyed adequately to the reader. However, the central problem – a jewellery robbery at a country estate – lacks sufficient significance to sustain the readers interest in the same way that a well-constructed murder mystery would have done, despite one of the suspects falling victim to a brutal attack late on.
Everard Blatchington, that wayward sprig of nobility first encountered in The Blatchington Tangle, the 3rd Wilson mystery, reappears on the scene and his relationship with Wilson – comprising equal parts distrust and respect – adds a frisson of confrontation which is welcome, if otherwise strangely lacking elsewhere, particularly given the remaining characters interactions. Generally the writing is of a good quality, with each individual voice believable, whether conveyed through a letter or conversation. However, ultimately this is rather a disappointment overall and one is left pondering how much better it could have been if there was a more gripping crime at the centre of the story. Well constructed and written, but lacking that essential element which would raise it closer to classic status. Still worth tracking down as an example of the Cole’s strong early period though.
Supt Wilson #8
Preceded by Poison In The Garden Suburb
Succeeded by Corpse In Canonicals
References in other Golden Age Mysteries
In Dorothy L. Sayers The Five Red Herrings Lord Peter Wimsey spots a copy of this book on the shelves of suspect John Ferguson and draws the attention of the Procurator Fiscal to it, suggesting he read it to while away some time while they wait. However, the more important point he divulges is that the copy of J J Connington’s The Two Tickets Puzzle he spotted there earlier is missing, which proves to be a valuable clue to the solution of the mystery.
No record of any modern reprint, ebook or audiobook has been traced by the reviewer.
First Edition Details
Originally published by Collins Crime Club 1930
Orange Cloth Boards pp 256, 8vo
Title and Author stamped in black on spine. ‘The Crime Club’ stamped in black at bottom.
Title and Author stamped in black on front inside single lined black box.
Dustwrapper priced at 7/6 net on spine.
1 x Map (opp. title page)
Originally published as The Berkshire Mystery by Brewer & Warren, New York 1930
(note: online sources regarding the 1st US edition are contradictory)
R E Faust
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