Jumping Jenny (Roger Sheringham 9) by Anthony Berkeley

Gallows humour…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Amateur detective Roger Sheringham is attending a fancy dress party at the home of a friend. The party’s theme is that all the guests should come dressed as famous murderers or their victims, and to add to the fun of the occasion the host has built a gallows on the roof terrace, and suspended three hanged dummies on it. It is this gallows that, by the end of the evening, will become the focus of the investigation into the death that brings the evening’s jollity to an end…

This is an “inverted crime” – that is, the reader sees the murder being done and knows whodunit, and then follows the detectives as they investigate. The victim is a woman, Ena Stratton – an attention-seeker and drunk who has annoyed just about everyone at the party in one way or another, mostly because they all feel sorry for her poor husband for being married to her, especially since he’s in love with someone else. So when she’s found dead, they’re all happy to think that she has killed herself and rid their pampered little world of an annoyance. But Sheringham isn’t so sure her death was at her own hands. So, as you would, he decides to tamper with the evidence to ensure that if one of his pals bumped her off they get away with it, and the death is neatly filed away as a convenient suicide.

Charming, isn’t it? Someone commented to me on a previous Berkeley review that he doesn’t like women, and I responded that I hadn’t read much of him yet and hadn’t become aware of that. I have now! The treatment of Ena in this one is way beyond typical sexism of the time – there is much talk of how it would be great if her husband could just get her locked away in an asylum, so that he’d be free to carry on his affair openly in her absence. Unfortunately, while the two doctors present at the party agree she’s a nuisance, neither of them is willing to declare her insane. Sheringham thinks that her husband should have beaten her into submission long ago – literally. So the party-goers’ delight at her unexpected death is unbounded – problem solved! Everyone is agreed that if her husband killed her, he was totally justified. Even the bit that the reader knows and the guests don’t – i.e., exactly what happened that led to the murder and who did the deed – is presented as if it is in some way justified by the fact that Ena is annoying. Poor Ena!

Anthony Berkeley

Having said all that, the book is as well-written as always and is enjoyable to read, with plenty of humour, some of it on the macabre end of the spectrum. Sheringham’s bid to mislead the police backfires somewhat, so that he finds himself as a suspect. (I hoped he’d be charged, convicted and hanged, personally – karma would have done its duty.) From then on, he spends his time encouraging everyone to commit perjury left, right and centre to prove the suicide theory, which they all cheerfully agree to do. And in the end, Berkeley throws in a final twist, which did nothing to redeem anyone in this reader’s eyes!

Berkeley was simply having some light-hearted fun here and clearly didn’t intend for the reader to take the book too seriously, and I found it quite easy and fun to go along for the ride. But I fear I shall no longer admire Sheringham as a person, though I will still enjoy him as a character. The whole thing is so far over the credibility line all the way through that even the ridiculousness of the final twist seems in keeping with the rest of the nonsense. So not one to take seriously, and not so much morally ambiguous as morally vacuous – but still highly entertaining…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

Amazon UK Link

41 thoughts on “Jumping Jenny (Roger Sheringham 9) by Anthony Berkeley

    • The sexism did make me gulp a bit in this one, especially the talk about how beating annoying women is a good thing. But the overall impression it left me with was that it wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously. I think it might be one that depends on mood though – at a different time it may well have annoyed me more than it amused me!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I do like the Berkeley books I’ve read thus far, FictionFan, and Sheringham is a solid character. But if I’m being really honest, I think the sexism in this one might be more than I’d want to deal with. Inverted mysteries can be very well done, though, and you gave it a high rating, so perhaps I’m being premature. Still..

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    • I’ve liked Sheringham as a person in the ones I’ve read before, where he’s seemed to be on the side of the vulnerable. But in this one he seems to have had a personality makeover, and not in a good way! The overall impression it left me with was that it wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously, but the outright sexism did make me gulp a bit!

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  2. I don’t recall reading an inverted mystery before, but I probably should (in the interest of research and all). I know I haven’t read Berkeley — at least recently. Not sure this one is right for me, but I enjoyed your review!

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    • You probably have without thinking of it in that way – we don’t tend to put books into these sub-categories so much any more. It’s only since I started reading the BL series that I’ve become aware of all these names for specific types of mystery. Berkeley is very good, but this wouldn’t be one I’d recommend to start with – quite likely to put you off for ever! But his The Poisoned Chocolates Case is great. 😀

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  3. I can’t recall reading an inverted mystery before and my mind isn’t sure how it would play out (as far as being interesting). I think I’ll at least put this one on my wishlist. The dark humor is right up my alley, even if I might want to slap a few characters in the book for their views about women.

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    • You probably have without thinking of it in that way – we don’t tend to use these names for specific types of mysteries so much any more. Strangers on a Train? I’m struggling to think of other non-vintage ones you might have read, but they still happen quite often. Columbo had an inverted mystery every week – you knew the villain and it was all about how Columbo would prove it. Berkeley is well worth reading, even if the sexism in this one did make me gulp a bit…

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        • Hitchcock did make a film of it, but originally it was a book by Patricia Highsmith. In it you know that Bruno murders Guy’s wife early on, and it’s all about what happens afterward – will he get caught, will he persuade Guy that Guy owes him a murder in return, etc. It’s a more modern, psychological take on an inverted mystery, I’d say. Still can’t think of any really modern ones, though I know I’ve read plenty of them! Memory like a sieve…

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  4. hmm, it sounds fun but I don’t think it’ll go on the tbr (thank goodness!). Dealing with everyday historical sexism is one thing, but this sounds beyond that, thanks for the tip off!

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    • A very occasional one makes me gulp a bit and this was one of them – way beyond the usual sexism we take for granted in vintage mysteries. But the overall impression it left me with was that it wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously, so I forgive him… this time… 😉

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  5. Interesting. This doesn’t sound like one I’d like to read, thankfully. I’ve already got too much on plate. I’m starting The Last Cuentista, the recent Newbery Medal winner, and book that we’ll be discussing at my middle grade book group. There’s NEVER enough time to read!

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    • Yes, it was your comment, and you were so right! At least it meant I was forewarned, and stopped me from thinking it was just me being hyper-critical again! 😉 Haha, this one was quite fun despite it, though the bit about beating annoying women did make me see Sheringham in a whole new light… 😉

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    • Haha, I’m used to making allowances for outdated attitudes given my love for vintage and classics, but this one did make me gulp a bit! However the overall impression it left me with was that it wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously… I hope! 😉

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    • The sexism did make me gulp a bit, but the overall impression it left me with was that it wasn’t meant to be taken too seriously, so I forgive him… this time! I enjoyed both of those a lot, and they are far less problematic, so I’d definitely read them before tackling this. It was because I knew there was a lot of humour in both of those that I was able to see the humour in this one… 😀

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  6. Now you know i love a good murder mystery, but the fact that this book starts off with a party that is glorifying actual murders makes me uncomfortable – it’s sort of in bad taste. That being said, I do enjoy a party with a made up murder mystery that you are given a ‘character’ as, and then everyone has to guess who the murderer is, but it’s not based on real-life! Ugh.

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    • Ha, I have to say this whole book was in rather bad taste for a lot of reasons, but still managed to be highly entertaining! But I know what you mean – I really prefer to stick to fictional murders, unless I’m reading a true crime book that takes the subject seriously, and even then I often think it’s all a bit too much like glorifying murder.

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