The Mystery of the Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes



The story begins in Paris, where Vivian Bickerdike is waiting for the arrival of a friend. He falls into conversation with a stranger, who turns out to be Baron Le Sage. So it’s something of a coincidence when they meet again a short while later, this time as they each make their way to a country house party in Hampshire. The Baron is on his way to play chess with Sir Calvin Kennett, while Bickerdike has been summoned by his friend, Sir Calvin’s son Hugo, a young man of volatile moods who seems to have something on his mind. But before Bickerdike finds out what the trouble is, there’s a murder. One of the maids, Annie Evans, was an unusually good-looking young woman (for a maid), and had been the unintentional cause of a feud between two of her admirers. Now Annie is dead, shot with Hugo’s gun. Enter Sergeant Ridgway of Scotland Yard…

This is dire. The writing is so clunky that many of the sentences are almost indecipherable. Not that it matters, because most of them are pointless waffle anyway. Have an example:

Le Sage, in the course of a pleasant little drive with Audrey, asked innumerable questions and answered none. This idiosyncrasy of his greatly amused the young lady, who was by disposition frankly outspoken, and whose habit it never was to consider in conversation whether she committed herself or anyone else. Truth with her was at least a state of nature – though it might sometimes have worn with greater credit to itself a little more trimming – and states of nature are relatively pardonable in the young. A child who sees no indecorum in nakedness can hardly be expected to clothe Truth.

Imagine over 200 pages of this. Imagine my pain.

Challenge details:
Book: 15
Subject Heading: The Birth of the Golden Age
Publication Year: 1919

The plotting is so bad that I would say I lost interest early on, except that would be inaccurate, since in fact at no point did I have any interest to lose. There are no clues cunningly sprinkled for the discerning reader to misinterpret – we simply have to wait for the author to get bored and reveal the solution. Unfortunately it took him far longer to reach that point of ennui than me, so I skipped the last 40%, tuned back in for the solution, laughed hollowly at the ridiculousness of it all, and deleted the book from my Kindle in a marked manner.

Bernard Capes

I’ve said it before – sometimes the books that Martin Edwards has chosen to include in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books baffle me. I can’t see that this badly-written, rambling nonsense of a book has contributed anything to the development of the mystery novel – anything good, at least – and it certainly isn’t high on entertainment value. However, Edwards says that GK Chesterton found the prose poetic – clearly Chesterton defines that word differently than I. And Julian Symons apparently described the book as ‘a neglected tour de force’. Justifiably neglected, in my opinion.

I often wonder in these cases if it’s simply that I can’t see wonders other people are marvelling over, so I checked the ratings on Goodreads, and no, I am not alone! This has an exceptionally low rating, even though it has been read by very few people and most of them are dedicated vintage crime aficionados. Proving yet again that fellow readers are often the most trustworthy guides.

So, I think it would be safe to say this one falls into the Not Recommended category.

Amazon UK Link

38 thoughts on “The Mystery of the Skeleton Key by Bernard Capes

  1. You know, FictionFan, you needn’t be coy. Just say what you think about what you read! 😉 In all seriousness, though, it’s a shame this was a dud for you; I’d thought that the premise was interesting. But just from that bit you shared, I wonder if reading it might feel like swimming upstream. And if you don’t care about the characters, or what’s happening in the story, then that seals the book’s fate as far as I’m concerned. I suppose that’ll be a hard pass from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, sometimes it’s just necessary to get a book out of your system! I must say that I thought the writing in this one was particularly awful, though – maybe it was just a mismatch between reader and author (but I don’t really think so! 😉 ). Still, it’s another one off the list. 😀


  2. Vivian is a man? I’ve never known a male Vivian. Your sentence about losing interest is priceless! I’m surprised you even fast-forwarded to the conclusion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s odd, isn’t it, how some names seem to have changed their gender (very fashionable!). Evelyn is another one that I always think of as a female name and I’m always surprised when it turns up as the name of a man. And as for Leslie and Lesley, I can never remember which of those is supposed to be female and which is supposed to be male! Haha, I think I was brutally rude about this book, but in truth it deserved it… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That passage made me hit the emergency power off switch before my engine blew. Your will to see it through—given the heat wave—is unparalleled. Quick! Someone call for an ice pack to save your overheated head!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The worst thing was I didn’t even have to look hard for an example of awful writing in this one! Open the book at any page and some such horror will leap out at you! Haha, I had to make do with medicinal cake, but fortunately that saved me… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you FF, for your considered and entertaining review, which I read with great enjoyment – on my laptop rather than my phone, the latter’s screen causing me a degree less comfort than the trusty yet somewhat dated computer, but still useful for blog perusal – with my eyes, which are increasingly myopic, yet still functional, and hazel brown, my mother’s eyes being green, my father’s brown, and thus my having inherited a combination of both, though veering more towards the paternal umber. I appreciate your Honest Reflections, for you did not clothe them in Polite Obfuscation, but instead compiled a Blog Post of Direct Response. (I’m sorry, I’ll stop torturing you now, you’ve suffered quite enough 😉 )

    Liked by 4 people

    • 😂😂😂 Hahaha! An excellent pastiche, Madame B! Apart from the awfulness of the language, what I hated most of all about that quote was him comparing a young woman in her twenties to a child. Sometimes I think misandry is the only possible response… 😉

      Liked by 3 people

    • Haha, thank you! I’m amazed some of these very early crime novels even managed to find a publisher – and it does make me laugh the way the early critics gushed over them. I expect they were all pals, like the authors who swap praise for quotation on today’s novels!

      Liked by 1 person

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