The Shop Window Murders by Vernon Loder

How much is that body in the window?

😀 😀 🙂

In the run up to Christmas, Mander’s Department Store puts on an elaborate window display to attract the attention of passing shoppers. It turns out the display is even more elaborate than they intended, though, when onlookers spot that two of the figures aren’t mannequins – in fact, they’re corpses! One is Mr Mander himself, the brains behind the store, while the other is the strangely named Effie Tumour, one of the store’s department heads. She has been stabbed; he, shot. It’s up to Inspector Devenish of the Yard to work out who killed them, and how and why.

This falls mainly into the category of the puzzle mystery, or the howdunit, and unfortunately that’s never my favourite kind of plot. The detection tends to take the form of Devenish speculating as to how a piece of the puzzle could have happened, and then looking for evidence to prove or disprove his theory before moving on to the next piece. My mind doesn’t work that way – I’m never very interested in the kind of detailed physical clue that shows that someone must have been in such and such a place at such and such a moment and therefore must have been seen by so and so. So sadly I found a good deal of this somewhat tedious, even though I could see that it was good of its kind.

When it moved on to possible motive it worked much better for me, and although there’s not a huge amount of in-depth characterisation, what there is of it is very good, making me regret that Loder hadn’t concentrated more on the why and less on the how. Miss Tumour (why do you think he called her that? Most odd…) was engaged to the manager of the store, Mr Kephim (I suppose if you’re called Tumour, the idea of changing your name to Kephim might not be so bad). But it appears she’s been clandestinely meeting up with Mr Mander. Was it a case of jealousy then? But Mr Mander has other secrets too, including claiming an invention of another man as his own, and charming the elderly widow who is providing the financial backing for the store, which her son is not thrilled about. So plenty of people might have wanted to bump him off.

A mixed bag for me, then, but on the whole the good bits were outweighed by the bits where my eyes were tending to glaze over. Regrettably, the solution when it comes is also mixed – it’s unexpected and interesting, which is good, but large parts of it are still speculative. Devenish may be right in his assumptions, but I couldn’t help feeling he could just as easily be wrong. I’m sure the puzzle aspects will appeal to people who enjoy pitting their wits alongside the detective to try to make sense of baffling physical clues, but personally, being more interested in motive and characterisation, I found it all rather unsatisfactory.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Collins Crime Club.

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26 thoughts on “The Shop Window Murders by Vernon Loder

    • Yes, I don’t spot the clues as they happen and don’t really visualise physical stuff, so all the speculation about them just makes me glaze over. Pity – but plenty of people love that style of mystery, so I’m sure this book will find better suited readers than me!

  1. Hmm….the howdunit part of a mystery can be interesting intellectually, but I agree that the people and motives are more interesting, FictionFan. I like the premise, though – that sounds intriguing. As you say, a mixed bag. Hmm….not sure I’ll go for this one, but as always, an excellent review.

    • Thank you! Yes, I think this is good at what it’s doing, but although I like a good clue as part of a mystery, it’s really the people that interest me. There were one or two parts of this that showed he had the talent to get into characterisation and so on, but it wasn’t the main thing. I’d maybe read another of his books, though, if he wrote any that concentrated more on characterisation.

  2. Sounds like an episode of Doctor Who, but very convoluted. 🙄 (I’m thinking of Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor running around a store where the mannequins have come to life. So I guess this means this book is the exact opposite of that plot.)

    • Haha – I might have been more interested in it if the mannequins had come to life! I must admit I always find those shop mannequins quite spooky even in daytime in a full shop – wouldn’t like to be shut in with them overnight… 😉

  3. When you first mentioned this one, I thought it sounded intriguing. Sadly, it didn’t really live up to your expectations, and from what you’ve said, it probably would disappoint me, too. Oh, well, what would we do if *every* book we picked up deserved a five-star review?!?

    • Yes, I think it’s a great premise, the bodies in the window display. But howdunits rarely work for me, unless they’re equally strong on characterisation, and in this one the how definitely was the most important thing. But I totally agree – I wouldn’t actually like to love every book I read. The great ones wouldn’t be so special then… 😀

  4. I’m trying to remember the name of a 1980’s teen movie where a young man fell in love with a mannequin who came to life… Shame about the book, it sounded much more promising than it turned out to be!

    • I still love the premise of the bodies in the window display, but howdunits rarely work for me unless there’s an equal emphasis on characterisation. and there wasn’t really here. But these vintage crimes are usually quite fun even when they’re not favourites… 😀

    • There was some good characterisation in this – a couple of scenes where I could see that he had the talent to do it really well. I think that just made me more frustrated though that the emphasis was mostly on physical clues and stuff like that.

    • Yes, I think the authors who go for a confession on the last page may have the right idea – it makes everything certain. I still like the premise of this one, but it didn’t quite live up to its blurb sadly.

  5. This is an area where you and I differ in our tastes – I do like these how could it possibly happen type books, I love intricate detail and so can happily fixate for ages on these. I also like the somewhat farcical setting! Imagine a window display with bodies in it – Can you imagine the headlines! Anyway I’m glad that this is a good example of its kind even if it was never really going to be a total hit with you – I will consider this as an antidote to next Christmas.

    • Ah, no, I don’t really try to solve the puzzles – for some reason my brain just doesn’t work that way. So as soon as a timetable or an intricate alibi appears my eyes tend to glaze over – pity! Haha – yes, I still like the window display idea, especially since I always think those mannequins look pretty evil anyway. I shall be examining the Christmas window displays more closely next year… 😀

  6. Hmmm too bad this one missed the mark for you. I must admit I’ve never felt at the end of a mystery/suspense/thriller that I didn’t quite ‘believe’ the ending or answer to the puzzle. As in, they’ve never offered up a solution that wasn’t the solution 100%, you know what I mean? I’ve only read books that have said ‘this is the answer, now let’s move on’. Am I making sense? And are you meaning to say this one was open-ended? Very unusual indeed…

    • Yes, I think a lot of authors end up with the murderer confessing in some way or another and that makes it feel more certain. This one wasn’t exactly open ended – it was more that I felt the detective was speculating and that the evidence might have shown that he was right, but equally might have worked for some other solution. It needed something more to totally convince me…

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