Mrs Harriet Steele is a woman possessed of all the attributes of a GAD Murder Victim (Priority One). She is selfish, mean, vindictive and unattractive; she has a Murky Past; and she is stuck, via some complicated testamentary shenanigans added to spite and greed, in a house with numerous family members who detest her, each other and their wretched, wretched lives. So it is surprising, when she visits her old flame – now an ‘Enquiry Agent’ – that she is only being plagued by petty acts of vandalism.
Douglas Merton, the Enquiry Agents’ nephew and our narrator, is dispatched to her home to investigate. There he discovers a stew of resentment that is about to boil over into murder – murder, moreover, that takes place inside a thoroughly sealed room.
JJ is an eloquent advocate of Rupert Penny’s and so I added one to my Christmas list but fortunately – as I almost always get jumpers – came across this one beforehand.
Wasn’t sure what to expect but the style of narration was quite engaging, with an affectionately acerbic relationship between uncle and nephew and a nicely depicted unhealthy, unhappy household. Merton is intelligent, observant and surprisingly knowledgeable about flowers; and he has apparently flung on some Lynx before his visit as he finds himself eyed up by two unwanted parties before winning round a more welcome one. But – as narrators are almost always condemned to be Watsons – so he is unable to get to the root of the matter and the investigation is completed by Inspector Beale (Penny’s series detective who seems a decent enough chap but doesn’t get much of a role here).
The puzzle itself is a very neat one, with a great set up and a few complications to muddy the waters and it is nicely resolved (though it does have several implausibilities, which are addressed to some extent) And there is a positive cornucopia of helpful diagrams, both before and after the resolution.
I did guess whodunit (Spoiler: The business in the garden might as well have come with a neon sign reading ‘Big Fat Set-Up’ flashing overhead) but not the mechanics of the murder.
For those interested in such things, there is also gratuitous nudity* and the wholesale slaughter of gnomes.
(*yes, there’s an explanation of sorts but not a very convincing one).
I really enjoyed this book, which encompassed a lot of standard GAD tropes (a smashed clock establishing time of death; a loathsome victim; a vindictive will; an accelerated romance; blackmail, etc) but without being too hoary with it. More Rupert Penny is definitely on the cards for the future.
But, probably, more jumpers first.