Tuesday ’Tec! The Mystery of Horne’s Copse by Anthony Berkeley

The reappearing corpse…

 

murder at the manorThe last time I reviewed an Anthony Berkeley short story, I wasn’t overly impressed. So, since I loved the one Martin Edwards has included in the latest of the British Library classic crime collections, Murder at the Manor, it seems only fair to redress the balance. Edwards tells us that Berkeley was praised by Agatha Christie, amongst others, for the intricacy of his plotting, and this story is a great example of that. So here goes for this week’s…

 

Tuesday Tec

.

The Mystery of Horne’s Copse

by Anthony Berkeley

.

Anthony Berkeley
Anthony Berkeley

 

It is over two years ago now and I can begin to look at it in its proper perspective; but even still my mind retains some echo of the incredulity, the horror, the dreadful doubts as to my own sanity and the sheer, cold-sweating terror which followed that ill-omened 29th of May.

Hugh Chappell , our narrator, has been visiting the family of his new fiancée, Sylvia Rigby. During the evening, they discuss Hugh’s cousin, Frank, currently on holiday in Europe with his wife. Frank and Hugh have had a difficult relationship – Frank is next in line to Hugh’s estate, should Hugh die childless, and he’s also a bit of a bad lot, though he seems to have settled down a little since he married.

Later, when Hugh prepares to take his leave, he discovers his car has broken down so he decides to walk home, taking a shortcut through Horne’s Copse. It is a dark night but although Hugh can’t see the path, he knows the copse so well he has no fear of missing his way. But halfway through, his foot strikes against an obstacle lying across the path, causing him to stumble.

I struck a match and looked at it. I do not think I am a particularly nervous man, but I felt a creeping sensation in the back of my scalp as I stood staring down by the steady light of the match. The thing was a body – the body of a man; and it hardly took the ominous black hole in the centre of his forehead, its edges spangled with red dew, to tell me that he was very dead indeed.

Worse is to come! Peering closer, Hugh recognises the body as that of his cousin Frank. But that can’t be – Hugh received a postcard from him from Italy only that day. Rushing home, Hugh contacts the police and returns with them to the copse. But the body has gone along with all trace of it ever having existed! The police think Hugh’s hoaxing them, but Hugh’s doctor, who knows Hugh suffered from shell-shock during the war, fears he might have had a hallucination.

No more comes to light and gradually the matter fades into the background. Until some weeks later, Hugh’s car again has a problem, and he again walks through the copse at night. And again, at the very same place, he stumbles over a body – Frank! This time stabbed in the chest. Checking that he is definitely dead, Hugh rushes home, phones the police and his doctor, and then hurries back to the copse. But again, the corpse is gone!

spooky woods

By now, even Hugh is beginning to doubt his own sanity, so he and Sylvia take a long holiday. On their return, Hugh hopes his nerves will have stopped playing tricks on him. But the very next time he walks through the copse, he again comes across Frank’s dead body!

This time I stayed to make no examination. In utter panic I took to my heels and ran. Whither, or with what idea, I had no notion. My one feeling was to get away from the place and as soon and as quickly as possible.

Without really being aware of what he’s doing, Hugh gets on a train to London. When he gets there, the newsboys are calling out about a body found in the woods. This time, the corpse was found, and it is indeed Frank. The police suspect the whole thing is a ruse of Hugh’s to murder Frank and get off with a plea of insanity, while his doctor isn’t altogether convinced that he’s not insane. But fortunately, Hugh meets an old school-friend, amateur ‘tec Roger Sheringham, who is convinced that Hugh is the victim of a plot…

* * * * *

This is a great story. Originally published as a serial, it’s split into short chapters each with a cliffhanger ending, and is very well-written. The mysterious reappearance of the corpse gives the whole thing a rather creepy, chilling feel, especially when Hugh begins to doubt his own sanity. I did work out part of the plot, but it’s more complex than it looks at first sight, with a nice twist before the end. Reasonably fair play though, I feel. The characterisation of both Hugh and Sylvia is excellent, with Sylvia in particular a likeable and intelligent character, reminiscent in some ways of Agatha Christie’s Tuppence Beresford. Sheringham, whom I didn’t much like as a detective in the last story I read, is much less annoying in this one, and also takes a bit of a back seat, letting Hugh and Sylvia do the bulk of the legwork. It’s not simply about who murdered Frank – the real mystery is how and why the corpse kept reappearing…

Unfortunately, I can’t find an online version to link to, but Murder at the Manor is out now in paper format and for Kindle. I’ll be reviewing the full collection shortly, and this story will definitely be featuring as one of the highlights.

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

52 thoughts on “Tuesday ’Tec! The Mystery of Horne’s Copse by Anthony Berkeley

  1. Oh, so glad you liked this one, FictionFan! Anthony Berkeley really did do some good stuff, and I’m happy to hear that you discovered one you enjoyed. Trust Martin Edwards to choose a good ‘un for that collection. Looking forward to your review of the whole thing. In the meantime, maybe I won’t take any shortcuts from now on…

    • Yes, this was much more fun than the last one I read, and very well plotted. But yes, it did make me laugh when he kept taking that shortcut – I’m guessing by the time of the second corpse, I’d have been willing to go the long way round… 😉

  2. This sounds brilliant, I love it already. I need to have it right away and read it from start to finish, ignoring all other aspects of things until it is done. Love it. Also – the author looks like Hitler’s backward cousin, a bit.

  3. Oh nice! A good spooky one. And that picture is something, too. I wish I looked like that at night. Imagine. You could really spook some people. Plus, those are cool yellow eyes.

    I probably said he looks like Hitler before, huh?

  4. The gif with the creatures hiding behind trees is hilarious!
    How nice to see that Berkeley redeemed himself with this story. Will have to look for Murder at the Manor.

    • Isn’t it? I was looking for a properly spooky picture of woods, but I couldn’t resist when I saw this one…

      These British Library crime collections are good – the quality of the stories is variable but there are always a few gems in there…

  5. You left me wanting to know who’s messing with poor Hugh! But poor Frank…. To be shot in the head, then stabbed for Hugh’s next walkabout is overkill, pardon the pun.

    I should have known the origins of Tuppence! You are more of a mystery reader than I, however, I could very well be convinced to pick this one up. But that gif is really disturbing. I’m afraid my imagination gets the best of me… Add the dark woods and I’ll never go hiking again!

    • I know! One of the few comforts in life is the knowledge that generally speaking we can’t be murdered more than once…

      Haha! Didn’t you know? Yes, Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are Christie’s other detectives, the less well-known ones! It was either that or call them Poirot and Marple… just doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it? I always find woods spooky even in daylight – not sure I’d be taking that shortcut… especially after the second corpse!

  6. Ooh, this one sounds super!! A body that keeps reappearing, with a deadly wound changing places, is a good basis for a mystery (and look at you, giving Tuppence another mention, heehee!!) As for that gif with the hooded creatures sneaking about the woods…well, that’s just priceless! And spooky!!

    • The story was nicely spooky in places too, though nothing supernatural about it. But it’s a great plot, I must admit! (Ha! Yes, Tommy’ll be in a bad mood all day now… 😉 ) Love that gif – it’s not really right for the story, but I coudn’t resist…

    • Definitely a good one, especially if you enjoy classic crime! I usually try to give an online link for these stories but I couldn’t find a legal one for this one, unfortunately.

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

  7. Cruel, too cruel to leave us in such suspense. And your gif is creepy. What to do, oh, what to do? Kindle? My finger hovers over the “buy now” button….I could read it on my son’s Kindle….or perhaps I could download a Kindle Reader for my iPhone……

    • It was a good one this – creepy without being full of supernatural stuff! Haha! The rule in life is – if it’s scared, it’s Tommy; if it’s scary, it’s Tuppence!

  8. How I wish we still did serials! Each publication had to be fantastic to get the reader to buy the next one, and there was the suspense from readers who had to wait! There were also some authors who would alter what they were going to write in the middle of the serial being published in response to readers.

    • Yes, I used to love the old comics with stories that went on for weeks, and I reckon I’d have loved getting the new section of Dickens’ novels as they came out. He was one of the ones who altered things as he went along – not always for the better, though, I think. But half the fun would have been that everyone would have been reading the same thing at the same time and avidly discussing what the next episode might hold…

  9. Hello, buddy

    There is one thing about about this story that I don’t quite understand. You know that Frank copied the first two deaths, but how did he make a black hole on his forhead for the first time and pretend to be be killed by dagger the second time?

    • Ha! I must admit I needed to suspend my disbelief quite a bit around the whole corpse thing, but I did think he managed to build a nicely creepy atmosphere. I guess Frank must have been an expert in stage make-up… 😉

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s