J. J. Connington – ‘The Twenty-One Clues’ (1941)

J. J. Connington was a pseudonym used by Alfred Walter Stewart (1880-1947), born in Scotland and educated in Glasgow, Germany and London. In 1909 Stewart was appointed to a lectureship in organic chemistry at Queen’s University, Belfast and in 1914 was appointed Lecturer in Physical Chemistry and Radioactivity at the University of Glasgow. His first novel was Nordenholt’s Million (1923), a dystopian tale set in the Clyde valley of Scotland but it was with the creation of Sir Clinton Driffield in Murder In The Maze (1927) that he became one of the most celebrated writers of the Golden Age of crime fiction. John Dickson Carr and Dorothy L. Sayers were both admirers of Stewart’s mysteries, which were primarily in the Freeman/Rhode/Crofts school.

Sometimes described as the most difficult of the Clinton Driffield mysteries to track down, this novel, originally published in 1941, may appear at first sight to be a simple re-working of his earlier adventure The Case With Nine Solutions, and therefore inferior. Certainly the initial problem, involving the discovery of the corpses of a man and a woman who appear to have been involved in some kind of intrigue, closely resembles the premise of the earlier story and both this and the similarities in the titles might tempt the collector to believe that this is a second-rate rehash of the original idea.

Front of 1st US edition

Fortunately for the lover of Golden Age crime fiction, things are not quite so bad as the reader might fear. This was the first Driffield book after Connington’s brief departure into the world of wireless detective The Counsellor – who featured in only two books before being discarded for a return to his most successful series character. All the usual ingredients of the earlier Driffield mysteries are present and correct – the dry humour, the emphasis on scientific methods and the well-drawn picture of rural life. Here the detection turns not on the mathematical permutations of the crime but on the aforementioned clues, which are left behind after the crime. Driffield, who unfortunately does not appear until nearly half way through the book, uses these to disentangle the threads and there is some intelligent use of ballistic evidence, including a clever trick by the criminal to confuse the evidence. The book introduces a couple of minor characters, the dour Inspector Rufford and the journalist Peter Diamond, who reappears in the next mystery No Past Is Dead, but Squire Wendover is present and correct, if a little less integral than some of the earlier books.

Spine of 1st US edition

The dustwrapper of the 1st UK edition from Hodder & Stoughton features the following catechism, quoted by Driffieldin the book:

What was the crime? Who did it? When was it done? And where?

How done? With what motive? Who in the crime did share?

Needless to say it is the consideration of those questions and their elucidation that lead Driffield towards the solution.

While not quite reaching the heights of the best of his early efforts, this is a solid if not spectacular Connington and one the collector of the realist school will find well worth obtaining – if he or she is fortunate enough to track down a copy. How difficult could that prove to be? Thanks to the recent reprints courtesy of Coachwhip, much easier than it was previously.

Dustwrapper of 1st US edition (www.dustjackets.com)



Sir Clinton Driffield #14

Preceded by Truth Comes Limping

Succeeded by No Past Is Dead


Collector’s Notes

This book was republished in paperback and ebook editions by Murder Room in 2013 and in paperback by Coachwhip in 2020 and is still available.


First Edition Details


Originally published by Hodder & Stoughton, London 1941

Light Blue Cloth boards pp 287, 8vo

Title and Author stamped in black on spine.

Front boards plain.

Dustwrapper priced at 8/3 net on front flap.


Originally published by Little, Brown & Company 1941

Orange Cloth Boards pp 316, 8vo

Title and Author stamped in black on spine. ‘Little, Brown And Company stamped in black at bottom.

Title and Author stamped in black on front, separated by Yin-Yang symbol.

Dustwrapper priced at $2 on front flap.


R E Faust


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