Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch

Stabbed in the back…

🙂 🙂 🙂

Felix Nayland is hosting a garden party for the worthies of Coppleswick, and has laid on entertainment in the form of an Albanian band. Later that day, Nayland turns up dead, face down in the pond known as Diana’s Pool, with a knife in his back. The odd thing is that he is wearing the uniform jacket of one of the band, who is now mysteriously missing and therefore quickly becomes the prime suspect. But the local vicar, Reverend Westerham, has spotted some odd clues around the crime scene and he has his doubts. Anyway, even if the musician is guilty, why is the victim wearing his jacket? Nayland is a newcomer to the area, having spent his life as a diplomat travelling the globe and getting mixed up in all sorts of murky events – could it be that some incident from his past has somehow caught up with him?

This is another of the novels in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, in the subsection Murder at the Manor. Edwards tell us that Whitechurch adopted an approach which for the time was unorthodox – he wrote the beginning, including the murder, without knowing himself how the book would develop or who the murderer would be. I’m not sure how much difference this made to the eventual outcome – it reads like a pretty standard murder mystery of the time.

Challenge details:
Book: 37
Subject Heading: Murder at the Manor
Publication Year: 1927

Westerham is a likeable amateur ’tec and, as was the way in crime novels back then, the police quite happily include him in their investigations once they discover that he is a particularly observant witness. The policeman in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Ringwood, gets a big build-up from his colleagues – “…he’s a demon for solving things” Constable Froome informs Westerman. Hmm, personally I thought he was more in the tradition of Japp or Lestrade, and that it was lucky for all involved that justice didn’t rest on the intelligence of the boys in blue!

Victor L Whitechurch

The plot gets a bit messy, which I suppose might be due to Whitechurch’s lack of planning ahead, and takes us into the murky world of South American politics. To be honest I found this pretty uninteresting, and since Nayland wasn’t given any time or space to develop as a character, it was hard to care much about his murder. There’s a side plot concerning the girl that Westerman is falling in love with, and because I liked him, I found I cared far more about the resolution of that strand. I don’t think it’s really fair play, although in fact I guessed the murderer quite early on, though not the motive. Just as an aside, I should mention that if you’re going to commit murder or participate in any other kind of dodgy dealings, it is not a good idea in general to have your initials embroidered or engraved on your belongings, but, if you must, then you should make every effort not to drop them at the scene of the crime. There were two instances of monogrammed items in this story, plus an identifiably foreign type of cigarette paper, all conveniently dropped as clues around the place, and it all felt a bit too contrived.

Overall, I enjoyed this well enough but didn’t think it had anything to really make it stand out from the crowd. It hasn’t inspired me to actively seek out more of Whitechurch’s work, but I’d still be happy enough to read another if it came my way.

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33 thoughts on “Crime at Diana’s Pool by Victor L Whitechurch

    • Yes, I think Martin Edwards said that he often used vicars as protagonists. It wasn’t in any way religious, though – but then the Church of England doesn’t really go in for being religious in a big way… 😉

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  1. Interesting he basically decided to wing it, and discover the identity of the murderer himself as he went along. Quite a risky strategy I would have thought, especially for crime fiction, which I tend to think of as acquiring maticulous planning.

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    • I can’t even begin to imagine how you could write a book that way, although I must admit that Sir Arthur Donan Coyle quite often doesn’t know whodunit when he starts writing… 😉 I believe it’s quite a thing with contemporary crime writers though – they seem to divide themselves between what they call “planners” and “pantsters” – i.e., people who fly by the seat of their pants (which is such an odd expression 😂 ).

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  2. You know it’s funny, FictionFan. The one point of your review that stood out to me was that the plot was a bit messy. For me, a whodunit plot is best when it’s quite clear, and when it doesn’t get too sidetracked. But that’s me. Still, Whitechurch does sound like a likeable protagonist, and that counts for a lot. I can see what you mean about wanting him to be a bit more devleoped. And there’s something appealing about the body being found with a band member’s jacket on. Very GA, if that makes sense…

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    • Yes, I like the plot to be clear too, and the whole detour to South America thing in this didn’t really work, I felt – it wasn’t developed enough to be interesting for itself, but it meant the action in the village disappeared into the background a bit. But I did like the jacket mystery – that had me nicely puzzled! 😀

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  3. I probably already have enough middling mysteries in my TBR (but I’ll never know if they’re middling until I read them!) , so no need to add this one. At least it has a great cover!

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  4. The premise for this one sounds interesting, but I don’t want another messy plot to wade through! I’m suffering my own brand of guilt for refusing to outline my second WIP, and I realize GOOD mysteries really do need structure. I enjoyed your review, though!

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    • I just can’t imagine how anyone could write a mystery novel without planning it all out first – at least who the murderer is and what their motive is! But then I’m a spreadsheet addict, so the idea of doing anything without planning is traumatic for me… 😉

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  5. Eeek. How can anyone write a whodunit without knowing whodunit until oh let’s say the end of the book when . . . let’s see . . . okay he did it, even though that solution might not make sense? Sigh.

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  6. If I could pick one of Whitechurch’s mysteries easily and inexpensively I would give one a try… based on your review.

    I think it is very good of you to go through all the mysteries in Martin Edward’s book and review them for us. I will check out your status so far on Murder Mystery Mayhem. I am curious to compare my reaction to yours in some cases… where I have had the opportunity to read the books.

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    • I got a Kindle version of this but I think it was reduced at the time. I must say that’s the major difficulty of this challenge – a lot of the books are very hard to get hold of, or far too expensive. But I’ve still got thirty or forty that I either already have or are available on Kindle, and more and more of these vintage crime books are being reissued all the time, so I’m hoping some of the rarer ones might turn up before I get to the end! Haha, I’m rather ashamed at how slowly I’m doing this challenge – at the rate I’m going the books will be antique rather than vintage by the time I get to them… 😉

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      • I don’t think you should be worried at the pace you are getting through these. I am impressed by all the personal challenges you take on (Spanish Civil War, Around the World, etc.).

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        • I find they stop me from getting stuck in a rut and just reading the same type of book all the time, but I try not to put too strict deadlines on them or they become a chore rather than a pleasure… 😀

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  7. I like the idea of the author not knowing how things were going to turn out and getting a surprise himself by how things turned out. Perhaps the monogrammed items were added to a later draft to support the resolution? Anyway, must remember to snip the tags out of my clothes in case of inadvertently leaving them behind if I do a crime.

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    • I just can’t imagine how anyone could do that, but the story did make sense so clearly he found it possible! Haha, yes, I do think it’s very careless to drop a monogrammed hanky at the scene of the crime, and why suspects will insist on stubbing out their distinctive cigarettes in muddy ground with their distinctive shoes I simply don’t know! Did they never read Sherlock Holmes??

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      • It does seem careless! Or arrogant if the monogrammed, distinctive items belong to the murderer.
        I’ve read that Stephen King doesn’t know how his books will turn out when he starts them, but he isn’t writing crime. I don’t know how writers from the past, crime or otherwise managed without a spreadsheet, or the internet or Microsoft Word, come to think of it 😉

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        • I know – I always think that about Dickens. His books are so complicated with so many strands and sub-plots and yet he wrote them by hand in instalments! I can’t imagine hand-writing a story at all – no spellchecker for a start! 😉

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  8. Wow! I can’t imagine writing a mystery/whodunnit without a plan. Maybe if I used a Ouija board? to write each next scene…but I’m thinking this would just turn into an endless string of dead ends. On to the next book, yes?

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  9. It seems that writers can spend endless amounts of time discussing the plotter vs pantser style. I am fairly sure, if I were ever to write properly, I would be a pantser. I can see how that could be messy in relation to a murder mystery, though. It’s strange, at school or work, I am a planner with a big P and I’ve actually done quite a lot of project management. But when writing I like just to sit down and see what comes out of my brain (sometimes nothing comes out…).

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    • I just don’t think I could be a pantster. I’m sure I’d get to the end and find I had left loose ends and made continuity errors all over the place! No, my books would be planned to the last detail, and doubtless would be utterly boring as a result… 😀

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