The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

Poisoned chocolates??? Blasphemy!!!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When Joan Bendix dies of poisoning, it’s quickly clear that the weapon was a box of chocolate liqueurs given to her by her husband. A clear-cut case, it would appear, but on closer examination there are a couple of problems. Firstly, Graham and Joan Bendix were happily married, so what would Graham’s motive have been? Secondly, and more importantly, he had had no chance to poison the chocolates – he had been given them by a man at his club, Sir Eustace Pennefather, that very morning. Sir Eustace himself had received them that morning through the post, so it appears that perhaps the intended victim was Sir Eustace. This would make more sense, since Sir Eustace has a shady reputation regarding money and women. The police find themselves baffled, so turn (as you do) to a bunch of self-styled amateur criminologists for help. Enter Roger Sheringham and the members of his Crimes Circle…

As Martin Edwards explains in his introduction, Berkeley wrote this to show how most detective fiction is carefully contrived so that each piece of evidence can have only one meaning – the meaning brilliantly deduced and revealed by the detective in the last scene. Berkeley does this by sending the six members of the Crimes Circle off to investigate in their own way for a week, after which, on consecutive evenings, one by one they give their solution only to have it destroyed the next evening as the new solution is put forth. It’s brilliantly done and highly entertaining, with a lot of humour in the characterisation of the members.

Of course, I spotted the solution straight away. So did all six criminologists, although each spotted a different one. Unfortunately, when my solution showed up in the very early stages of the book, I, along with the amateur ‘tec who proposed it, had to hang my head in shame as the others neatly demolished it, showing me that each of the clues I had carefully collected couldn’t possibly mean what I thought it meant. After that, I decided to resign as a detective and simply watch the rest at work!

Challenge details:
Book: 22
Subject Heading: The Great Detectives
Publication Year: 1929

They’re an intriguing and mismatched bunch, brought together simply because each has an interest in crime. Roger Sheringham is Berkeley’s recurring amateur detective, but it should not be assumed that that means his solution will necessarily be the right one – Berkeley apparently enjoyed making him get it wrong occasionally. There’s a famous and rather pompous defence barrister, a dramatist of the intellectual variety, a novelist who delves somewhat pretentiously into the psychology of her characters, a detective-mystery writer who thinks rather highly of himself, and a rather insignificant little man who is in perpetual awe of everyone else. Each approaches the problem from a different angle, and since they and the victims and suspects all move in the same social circles, several of them have the advantage of being able to add details from their own knowledge. I admit it – I was totally convinced by every solution they offered, which suggests I must be the detective-mystery writer’s dream reader!

Anthony Berkeley

While the cleverness and originality of the plotting are what make the book unique, it’s also well written and has a good basic mystery at its core. Berkeley might be having a bit of fun at his fellow mystery writers’ expense, and his own, but it’s not at all done with a sense of superiority or sneering. His affection for the conventions comes through clearly even as he subverts them and in the end it is fair play – there’s nothing to stop the armchair detective getting to the real solution except for all the delightful red herrings and blind alleys along the way. But is the real solution really the solution? For a bit of extra fun, the BL have included an alternative solution written later by another mystery novelist, Christianna Brand, and have enticed Martin Edwards to come up with yet another!

A most enjoyable read – light-hearted, amusing and clever, and fully deserves its reputation as a classic of the genre.

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36 thoughts on “The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

    • Haha – I was so convinced I’d spotted the solution, and had to laugh at how easily he demolished it! It’s so well done, but I still can’t quite forgive him for ruining a box of chocolates… 😉

    • Oh, do!! It’s perfect light entertainment to fit between all the more harrowing reads! Though I must admit I find the idea of anyone poisoning chocolates quite harrowing… 😉

  1. I rather warily started this last night. I have had a very mixed history with this series it keep on in the hope that I will eventually find one I enjoy. Maybe this will see the breakthrough.

    • I hope you’re enjoying it! Yes, I’ve found them quite variable in quality too, though I’ve enjoyed the more recent ones more consistently – either they’re choosing better, or I’ve got more into the right kind of mind-set for the style. But there are still odd ones that I feel should probably have been allowed to remain forgotten…

  2. Ah, so glad you liked this so much, FictionFan! It is a delicious little case, isn’t it? And I do like the way the different members of the club hash over the case and try to discuss how it could have happened. I like the writing style, too; it keeps the reader engaged, and doesn’t bog the reader down with minutiae.

    • Haha – I was so sure I had spotted the solution, and was ready to be all superior about it. I should have known better! *hangs head in shame* It’s so cleverly done and I loved how all the ‘tecs were “types” – nicely mocking his contemporaries but without any feeling of cruelty. Great fun! 😀

    • Thank you! 😀 Absolutely – perfect to fit between the more harrowing ones. Though I do find the idea of anyone poisoning chocolates quite harrowing… 😉 Hope you enjoy it! 😀

  3. I do that all the time when I’m reading crime. Smugly announce a quarter of the way through that I know who did it. Then watch as my theory is slowly but surely ripped to shreds 🤣

  4. This one sounds wonderful, apart from the poisoned chocolates of course. Not many mystery writers can lead you to think one thing and prove you wrong, then do it again! My only complaint is that the cover art should have included a art deco-style box of chocolates.

  5. Aha! I knew when you proposed this one way back when, that you would enjoy it. Just something about the way the synopsis was written. I’m glad that you liked it, and thank you for reviewing it.

    • It did sound like a lot of fun and happily it lived up to its blurb! There’s a lot of humour in a lot of these older crime novels – wish more modern crime had some humour in it!

  6. There is something delicious and so appealing when you think you know the answer, and it turns out you’re wrong. I love that!! And obviously poisoned chocolate is blasphemy and I refuse to acknowledge it.

    • You’ve done magnificently! But I’m going to buy shares in all the book stores because I have a feeling their sales are going to rocket when your ban ends… 😀 This one definitely deserves a place on your shopping list!

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