Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley

Person or persons unknown…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When wealthy American business tycoon Sigsbee Manderson is found shot dead in the grounds of his English country house, freelance journalist and amateur detective Philip Trent is commissioned by one of the Fleet Street newspapers to investigate. Trent quickly learns that Manderson’s marriage was in difficulties. His young trophy bride Mabel had soon discovered that the life of a rich socialite bored her, and although she did her best to fulfil her duties as wife and hostess, Manderson had become increasingly withdrawn from her. Also in the house are Manderson’s two secretaries: his American business secretary, Calvin Bunner, and John Marlowe, an Englishman who looked after the social side of Manderson’s diary. A manservant and a stereotypical French maid complete the list of inhabitants, while Mabel’s uncle, coincidentally an old friend of Trent’s, Nathaniel Cupples, is ensconced in a nearby hotel. Although the coroner’s inquest finds a verdict of murder by person or persons unknown, Trent soon feels he has a good idea what happened that night. But for reasons of his own, he can’t reveal his suspicions…

This one was first published in 1913, before the Golden Age had got properly under way and therefore before the genre had developed its recognisable structure. Here we get Trent’s solution halfway through, along with his reasons for not revealing it. The rest of the book takes us through what follows, eventually leading to Trent finding the full truth, complete with a little twist in the tail. It’s enjoyable in parts, but the structure makes it uneven, and it’s one of those ones that depends very much on two adults being unable to have a simple conversation which would have brought out the truth much earlier. It also goes wildly far over the credibility line more than once, all becoming rather ridiculous in the end. Admittedly, what I just called ridiculous, Martin Edwards describes as a ‘clever surprise solution’, so as always these things are in the eye of the beholder.

Challenge details:
Book: 12
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1913

EC Bentley

Edwards also points out, in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, that Bentley was experimenting with some of the things which would later become part of the standard for mystery novels – the unlikeable victim over whom the reader need not waste too much time grieving, the country house with its enclosed set of suspects, and an attempt at fair play, making sure the reader is given all the clues to pit her wits against the detective. I’m not sure how well he succeeds in that last aspect – when the clues and solutions are so wildly incredible, one wonders if the reader can really be said to have a fair chance even if all the information is given. I did spot one or two of the clues and worked out little bits of what was going on, but I came out of it rather glad that my mind isn’t quite distorted enough to have worked out the whole puzzle!

It didn’t become a favourite for me, or inspire me to seek out more of Bentley’s Trent books (it turns out not have been his last case after all!) but overall I enjoyed it, partly for the story itself and partly for the interest of seeing another stage towards the development of the genre.

I downloaded it from wikisource.

28 thoughts on “Trent’s Last Case by EC Bentley

  1. You know, FictionFan, as I was reading your post, I was thinking just that – that it’s interesting to see how the genre has developed over time. You’re right, too, that everyone’s definition of ‘over the top’ might be a little different. Still, this does sound like some fun. And I do like that setup with those characters that would become almost stereotypical later. Glad you found some things to like about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s good to see how each author built on the ones who came before and that the genre didn’t just suddenly arrive fully formed, so to speak. I don’t always love these very early ones, but I usually enjoy them enough to make them worthwhile, and they give me a better appreciation of how good the genre became within the next couple of decades.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t come across this one before, but I think as a writer it might be interesting for me to catch an early glimpse into the makings of the standard for mystery novels. That genre has come a long way, but some things are still fairly typical. Glad you found it somewhat enjoyable!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is interesting to see how the genre developed over time and to see what bits of it have carried through to today. I don’t always love these very early ones, but I usually enjoy them enough to make them worth reading anyway!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re absolutely right… ultimately it’s all in the eyes of the beholder (and how they’re seeing at that very moment!). I’m glad it was good enough for you still enjoy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funnily enough, that’s what happened! Mabel murdered Sigsbee by attaching razor blades to a frisbee and throwing it at him. Decapitated him instantly, and also trimmed his beard at the same time! Then it returned to her so no trace of the murder weapon could be found…

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  4. I’ve always wondered about this one, mostly because of the title. I think I will give it a pass. It’s fun to read some of these Golden Age mysteries, but as society has moved on and tropes have changed, they are a little too dated for me sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the true Golden Age, from about the late ’20s on, but I’m often not as keen on the very early ones before the genre really developed a set style. I can usually tolerate outdated attitudes in books as long ago as the Golden Age better than I can in ones from later in the century. This one is fine, but there are much better ones out there…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It sounds as though many of the tropes of Golden Age Mysteries were present, but they somehow didn’t quite hang together. The genre was obviously still in its inphancy at this stage, so I think it would still be worth reading out of curiosity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s only when I read books from as early as this that I realise how eventually there came to be a set style, even though then the best authors started playing with it. But I really prefer the big solution at the end rather than the way this one kind of had an investigation and then an aftermath.

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    • Ha – I actually read this one before they locked me up and threw away the key. But I’m deeply worried that I seem to be enjoying contemporary thrillers at the moment – clearly the anxiety is destroying my sanity… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  6. The idea of seeing how genres like this evolve is fascinating for me too, especially because mysteries in particular never seem to have lost their popularity, even today, 100+ years later. My question for you is-how did you know this was on wiki source, what made search out this book in the first place?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I looked for it because it’s one of the books Martin Edwards lists in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, which I’m using as the booklist for this challenge. Many of the books he lists aren’t available in print, or only at ridiculous prices, so I started searching online and found a few sites that have loads of out-of-copyright vintage crime on them, including wikisource. fadedpages.com is another brilliant site and is Canadian, so it has loads of stuff on it that might interest you… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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