Like last week’s Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, Resorting to Murder is another anthology of crime stories edited by Martin Edwards, published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series, this time with the theme of murders committed during summer holidays. According to the introduction to this story, Anthony Berkeley was pretty well known as one of the crime writers of the Golden Age. Personally I’ve never heard of him, either under that name, which he used when writing whodunits, or as Francis Iles, the name he used for novels about the psychology of crime. Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective in this story, appeared in several other stories, though this one was never published until 1994, and even then in a strictly limited edition. So time to see if it’s a forgotten treasure or just one that should have been left on the shelf, in this week’s…
Razor Edge by Anthony Berkeley
Here, ladies and gentlemen, are the facts of the case. Your mission is to see if you can find the solution…
Roger Sheringham is spending the weekend with his old friend Major Drake, who just happens to be the Chief Constable of the seaside resort of Penhampton. A man is found drowned – not an uncommon occurrence in a place where the bathing is known to be dangerous. A distraught woman turns up at the police station and tells them that her husband, Edward Hutton, had gone bathing with another man, a fellow holidaymaker, Michael Barton. She subsequently identifies the corpse as her husband. Barton hasn’t been seen since, and all Mrs Hutton can say by way of description is that he had a long moustache. The police are confident it’s a tragic double drowning accident but, as you do when you have guests staying, Major Drake invites Sheringham to accompany him to the mortuary to look at the corpse. (Beats visiting the local museum, I suppose.)
Sheringham has a casual glance or two at the corpse and pretty much solves the whole thing on the spot, though in time-honoured fashion he keeps his conclusions to himself so that the police can show off their stupidity to the full. Here are the things Sheringham notices…
The man has a recent shaving cut on his lip.
The man’s chin is stubbly as if he hadn’t shaved that morning.
The man has scratches all over his back but none on the rest of his body.
From this, Sheringham deduces it’s a case of murder. Five points and a signed picture of Sheringham to anyone who can at this point tell me whodunit and how it was done. Oh, come on! Sheringham had the answer!
No? Oh, well, let’s assume that, like the police, you need a little extra help.
New clues found out in the course of the investigation
Barton owned a blue suit but wasn’t wearing it when he went bathing that day.
The blue suit is no longer in Barton’s tent.
There was a warrant out for the arrest of Hutton for dodgy sharedealing.
Mrs Hutton was seen the next day with a man in a blue suit.
Still not solved it? I guess you’ll just have to read the story then.
Oh, how did I do? Well, I admit I’d sussed out the whodunit from roughly page 2, and I worked out the why when the new clues came along. As to the how, well, I got about two-thirds of that bit, and frankly the other third was silly…
Despite the fact that I’m making fun of it, the story isn’t too bad really, but neither is it particularly good. Because I haven’t read any of the other Sheringham stories I can’t say how it compares, but I found the writing pretty good and the characterisation pretty stereotyped. Sheringham himself is not so much a Holmesian incisive reasoner as an annoyingly smug, psychic know-it-all, and that’s just as well because the intellectually challenged police desperately needed help. While I like stories that give the reader the clues needed to work out the solution, they really have to be hidden a little better than they are in this one. I’m not sure it would encourage me to seek out more of Berkeley’s stories, but it whiled away a quarter of an hour pleasantly enough.
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Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓
Overall story rating: 😀 😀 🙂