Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery by Anthony Wynne

A locked-room mystery…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

murder-of-a-ladyAmateur detective, Dr Eustace Hailey, is visiting a friend in Mid-Argyll in the Scottish Highlands, when a murder is committed in nearby Duchlan Castle, home of the laird, Hamish Gregor. The victim is the laird’s sister, Mary, a woman to all outward appearances of a saintly nature, the last person one would expect to be brutally slain. Her body is found in her bedroom, with the door and windows locked from the inside, and no obvious way for the murderer to have got in or out. The local Procurator Fiscal has heard of Dr Hailey’s reputation and begs him to come and look at the scene, fearing it may be some time before a police detective arrives in this remote spot. It’s not long before Dr Hailey discovers that Mary Gregor had another, darker side to her nature, harsh and judgemental, manipulating and controlling the people around her to get her own way in all things, no matter the cost to others…

These British Library re-issues of vintage crime novels have been a bit hit or miss for me, so I’m delighted to say this one is most definitely a hit! I was simultaneously attracted to and apprehensive about it because of its Scottish setting – so often at that period Scottish characters were annoyingly stereotyped as either figures of fun or drunken, belligerent half-savages by the rather snobbish English writers of the time. However I needn’t have worried – it turns out Wynne was Scottish himself, and the picture he paints of this Highland society gives a real feeling of authenticity, even though it does, as with most Golden Age crime, concern itself primarily with the aristocratic and professional classes. There is an interesting, short introduction from Martin Edwards, giving a little background information on the author, and setting the book into its place in the history of crime fiction.

Although the focus is largely on the locked-room puzzle of how the crime could have been done, there’s some pretty good characterisation along the way. Not so much of the detective, Dr Hailey – I believe this was quite far along in the series so Wynne may have presumed his readers already knew about him. But the victim’s personality is key to the motive, and, though she’s dead before we meet her, we get an increasingly clear picture of her in all her malevolence through the eyes of the various people who knew her. Her brother Hamish, the laird, is another fine creation – his snobbery and sense of self-importance, his pride in his family and lineage, his weakness to stand up to his sister, his insistence on the maintenance of tradition. I particularly liked the way Wynne portrayed the women, showing them as subordinate within this society, but strong within themselves; victims sometimes, but not hysterical ones; and intelligent, worthy partners for the men they loved.

Anthony Wynne
Anthony Wynne

Of course, there is more than one murder, and I have to admit that the second one took me totally by surprise and actually made me gasp a little. There’s no real horror aspect in the book, but it nevertheless builds a great atmosphere of rather creepy tension, aided by the superstitions of the Highland folk. It does veer into melodrama at points, but that works well with the rather gothic setting of the old house filled with secrets from times gone by. I wouldn’t call it fair-play – I think it would be pretty impossible to work out the who, why and how of the crimes. And yes, it does stretch credibility when all is revealed – the method, at least, though the motivations of all the characters were credible enough to carry me over any other weaknesses.

I enjoyed this one very much – another author the British Library has managed to add to my list!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

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42 thoughts on “Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery by Anthony Wynne

  1. You have me very intrigued about this book by saying it’s impossible to figure out the who, why and how! I love it when I can’t figure out the mystery or when I think I have but I’m completely wrong. I’m going to check this out on Amazon, Great review:)

  2. This sounds great! I classic ‘locked room’ mystery, a gaggle of interesting characters and set in the fabulous Scotland! It’s going on my list, FF. And doesn’t Wynne look like a fine fellow in his photo?

  3. This does sound great, FictionFan. The ‘locked room’ sort of mystery is a classic, and when it’s done well, it can be really engrossing. And, you know, it’s funny. when a story draws me in, I can even forgive those stretches of credibility when the rest is well done. This sounds like one of those books, and I’m glad. And with Edwards writing an introduction, what more could you want?

    • Yes, I like howdunits as much as whodunits when they’re done well, even if sometimes the ‘how’ seems rather unlikely! The little introductions are part of what makes these books so enjoyable – it’s nice to learn a little bit about the author and where the books sit in terms of the history of crime fiction. So even when the books are less good I still find them fun to read – not that this one was less good!

    • Ooh, good! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! I find these BL books irresistible – even though they’re a bit variable, I don’t think I’ve read one that wasn’t fun, and I like the little intros that tell you just enough about the author and where the book sits in the history of crime fiction… great stuff!

  4. This one sounds truly delightful! You know I love mysteries, and it’s pretty hard to beat the old classics. And hey, if you actually gasped at one part, why, that’s reason enough for me to try to find a copy of this one for myself.

    • Thes British Library reissues are a treasure trove for mystery lovers! Haha! I thinking gasping is a real measure of the quality of a book – it doesn’t happen often enough… 😉

    • *Gasps!* I’m astonished! I think there were about twenty in the series too. Maybe they went out of print really early. It’s dated, yes, but I still thought it was great. I think you’ll enjoy it…

  5. You’ve totally sold me on this one! I will look for it.
    I really appreciated this: “I was simultaneously attracted to and apprehensive about it because of its Scottish setting – so often at that period Scottish characters were annoyingly stereotyped as either figures of fun or drunken, belligerent half-savages by the rather snobbish English writers of the time. However I needn’t have worried – it turns out Wynne was Scottish himself, and the picture he paints of this Highland society gives a real feeling of authenticity, even though it does, as with most Golden Age crime, ” Good. That really sells this book.

    • Hurrah! Hope you enjoy it! Yes, I’m always a bit wary of books set in Scotland in this era – up until the last few decades in fact. But this one felt right to me… 🙂

  6. Glad to hear this Scottish mystery was a hit – as you say, it probably helped that the author hailed from that part of the world. Locked room puzzles are my favourite and good to know the author provided some great characters too!

    • Yes, if I’d known he was Scottish I’d have been less apprehensive, though even Scots used to do a lot of stereotyping. This was a fun one – the howdunit of the second murder was even more mysterious than the first… and a bit scary!

    • I’m finding them more and more irresistible and they keep turning up on NetGalley. They have been variable, but every one has been fun in some way or another, and this one was particularly good, I thought… 🙂

    • Woohoo! I love these old classics – a bit dated, of course, but actually that can be an advantage, since it tends to mean they’re a lot lighter and more entertaining than a lot of the crime fiction that’s around today. Enjoy!

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