The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher

A mysterious victim…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

When young newspaper editor Frank Spargo happens upon a murder scene late one night, his journalistic instincts lead him to follow the story. Fortunately the police detective in charge of the case doesn’t seem to have a problem with sharing all the evidence with a journalist and soon Spargo is taking the lead in the investigation. The first thing is to identify the victim, but this turns out not to be as easy as might be expected. The man’s wallet and papers have been removed from his body, and even when they begin to trace him, he seems to have a mysterious past. Spargo will have to go back into that past to find out who the man is, what he was doing in Middle Temple late at night and who had the motive and opportunity to kill him.

All that is found on the victim’s body is a scrap of paper with the name and address of a young barrister, Ronald Breton. Breton has never met the man, but since he’s just starting his first case and is yet to make his name in legal circles, it seems unlikely the victim would have been looking for him in his professional capacity. When it turns out the man had met Stephen Aylmore the evening before – an MP and the father of Breton’s fiancée – it all begins to look like the motive is more likely to be personal, and Aylmore quickly becomes the chief suspect. Fortunately for Aylmore he has two daughters and Spargo finds himself falling for the other one, giving him an incentive to clear Aylmore’s name.

It took me a while to really get into this one but after a slowish start it begins to rattle along at a good pace, and the plot is that great combination of being twisty and complicated without ever becoming hard to follow. Spargo does his detection the old fashioned way – by talking to people, noticing discrepancies between the stories of various witnesses and using those to prise open the secrets that some of them are hiding. First published in 1919 in the age of the gifted amateur detective, the idea of a journalist being so closely involved in a police investigation doesn’t seem as unbelievable as it would today, and Spargo mostly shares all the information he finds, although eventually he and Rathbury, the police detective, find themselves on opposite sides – Rathbury trying to prove the guilt of Aylesbury and Spargo trying to prove his innocence.

Challenge details:
Book: 14
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1919

Most of the action takes place in London, around Fleet Street and the Middle Temple, but the story takes Spargo out of the city too, first to a small market town where he uncovers some long past scandals that seem to have a bearing on the case, and then up to Yorkshire for a finale deep in the moors. Fletcher describes each setting well, giving a real feeling for the different ways of life in the various places. None of the characterisation is particularly in-depth, but it’s done well enough so that I soon found myself rooting for some of the characters to be cleared while others I was prepared to see go to the gallows. Fletcher, anticipating the Golden Age style, gave me a solution that meant I could feel justice had been done. I must say it’s a sudden solution, though! Boom – here’s the final piece that makes it all fall into place, and we’re done. My brain could have done with an extra three or four pages to give me time to process what just happened! But I didn’t think it was unfair or illogical – just abrupt.

JS Fletcher

All-in-all, I enjoyed this one a lot. It does feel rather dated in style (which I don’t mind, but some people might) and frankly could have done with a stiff edit to get rid of one or two little discrepancies, but they weren’t enough of a problem to bother me nor to affect the overall outcome. I was disappointed to read in Martin Edward’s entry in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books that Fletcher never revisited the Spargo character in later books – I reckon he could have made a good series detective. However apparently Fletcher did create another series detective later, Ronald Camberwell, and I’d happily try one or two of those if I can get hold of them. Meantime, this one is recommended as well written, cleverly plotted and entertaining.

NB I downloaded this one from wikisource. The formatting is very good.

Book 14 of 20

30 thoughts on “The Middle Temple Murder by JS Fletcher

  1. I read this a few months ago, after you made some earlier reference to it (and I found a cheap download of JS Fletcher’s works). I did enjoy it too, especially the travelling about and effective scene setting, but, with my less than sharp memory, it hasn’t remained clearly memorable. I also read his The Paradise Mystery, which is a twisty murder mystery, well set in a cathedral.

    • I must say I rarely remember the vintage crime stories for long – they’re kinda like light entertainment for me, enjoyable and not requiring my brain to be fully on. Plus forgetting them means I can have the fun of re-reading – I must have read some of the Christies at least a dozen times. I’ll look out for The Paradise Mystery – a cathedral setting sounds great! I just wish I’d started reading all of these twenty years ago – I’ll never catch up!! 😉

  2. You know, FIctionFan, one of the first things I wondered about was whether it’d be possible in today’s world for a journalist to take the lead in an investigation. But at the that time I can see it. And it does sound like a mystery with some interesting twists in it. The other thing that appeals to me about this is the look at different place (and at the travel, too) during that era. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Somehow I don’t struggle with realism nearly as much in vintage crime – maybe growing up with Holmes and Poirot made me more willing to accept amateur ‘tecs, or at least non-police ones. I thought he did the various settings well and they added an extra layer of interest. Too many good authors being brought back – I can’t cope!! 😀

    • I do think all these amateur detectives date the vintage crime books, but somehow it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it would in a contemporary novel. I think we look for far more realism in crime fiction nowadays – not necessarily a good thing, in my ‘umble opinion.

  3. Another one I’ve never heard of! It sounds, however, like you enjoyed it a lot — woo hoo, five stars on a Friday! — so it must have been good reading. Thanks for another suggestion for me!

    • These vintage crime novels are such easy reading – I find them the perfect way to relax! And so many good ones are being brought back now – spoiled for choice. 😀

  4. I think I would probably enjoy this one if it were dropped in my lap, but it’s not really screaming “buy me”. I do like that cover. 🙂

    • If you’re a Kindler (or other e-reader) it will drop in your lap if you download it free from wikisource! 😉 But, although I enjoyed it a lot, it probably wouldn’t make my top ten if I ever get around to doing a top ten!

  5. This is a strange preference of mine, but I seem to have a hankering for mysteries that take place in London. Does it seem like an extra spooky sort of city? I guess so? I’m not sure why I feel this way, maybe it’s the whole Sherlock Holmes thing, but it adds to the atmosphere for me.

    • Haha! I’m pretty sure that’s why I’m enjoying the vintage crime revival so much – takes me back to simpler times when the worst you had to fear was Jack the Ripper or arsenic poisoning… 😀

  6. When I worked as a journalist, we never had that kind of a relationship with the police – they always viewed as a pain in the proverbial. if you got a friendly copper he might feed you a crumb of info but no way would you get the level of info needed to do your own investigation. Still, this is fiction so we have to suspend our disbelief.

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