Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery by Anthony Wynne

A locked-room mystery…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

murder-of-a-ladyAmateur detective, Dr Eustace Hailey, is visiting a friend in Mid-Argyll in the Scottish Highlands, when a murder is committed in nearby Duchlan Castle, home of the laird, Hamish Gregor. The victim is the laird’s sister, Mary, a woman to all outward appearances of a saintly nature, the last person one would expect to be brutally slain. Her body is found in her bedroom, with the door and windows locked from the inside, and no obvious way for the murderer to have got in or out. The local Procurator Fiscal has heard of Dr Hailey’s reputation and begs him to come and look at the scene, fearing it may be some time before a police detective arrives in this remote spot. It’s not long before Dr Hailey discovers that Mary Gregor had another, darker side to her nature, harsh and judgemental, manipulating and controlling the people around her to get her own way in all things, no matter the cost to others…

These British Library re-issues of vintage crime novels have been a bit hit or miss for me, so I’m delighted to say this one is most definitely a hit! I was simultaneously attracted to and apprehensive about it because of its Scottish setting – so often at that period Scottish characters were annoyingly stereotyped as either figures of fun or drunken, belligerent half-savages by the rather snobbish English writers of the time. However I needn’t have worried – it turns out Wynne was Scottish himself, and the picture he paints of this Highland society gives a real feeling of authenticity, even though it does, as with most Golden Age crime, concern itself primarily with the aristocratic and professional classes. There is an interesting, short introduction from Martin Edwards, giving a little background information on the author, and setting the book into its place in the history of crime fiction.

Although the focus is largely on the locked-room puzzle of how the crime could have been done, there’s some pretty good characterisation along the way. Not so much of the detective, Dr Hailey – I believe this was quite far along in the series so Wynne may have presumed his readers already knew about him. But the victim’s personality is key to the motive, and, though she’s dead before we meet her, we get an increasingly clear picture of her in all her malevolence through the eyes of the various people who knew her. Her brother Hamish, the laird, is another fine creation – his snobbery and sense of self-importance, his pride in his family and lineage, his weakness to stand up to his sister, his insistence on the maintenance of tradition. I particularly liked the way Wynne portrayed the women, showing them as subordinate within this society, but strong within themselves; victims sometimes, but not hysterical ones; and intelligent, worthy partners for the men they loved.

Anthony Wynne
Anthony Wynne

Of course, there is more than one murder, and I have to admit that the second one took me totally by surprise and actually made me gasp a little. There’s no real horror aspect in the book, but it nevertheless builds a great atmosphere of rather creepy tension, aided by the superstitions of the Highland folk. It does veer into melodrama at points, but that works well with the rather gothic setting of the old house filled with secrets from times gone by. I wouldn’t call it fair-play – I think it would be pretty impossible to work out the who, why and how of the crimes. And yes, it does stretch credibility when all is revealed – the method, at least, though the motivations of all the characters were credible enough to carry me over any other weaknesses.

I enjoyed this one very much – another author the British Library has managed to add to my list!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 103…

Episode 103…

I seem to be operating on a one in, one out, basis at the moment, since for the fourth week in a row, the TBR has remained static on 181, and the number of outstanding review copies stays the same at 38. And I’m still “reading” Moby-Dick! (i.e. It looks at me accusingly every time I open the Kindle, and occasionally I read a few pages hoping something will happen, only to find he’s still sneering at artists or boring on about how fish aren’t like dogs – seriously! An amazing revelation – guess there’s no more point in me throwing sticks into the river and shouting “fetch” then…)

Here are a few that may help to restore my joie de vivre. I’m trying to clear some of the NetGalley books that have been hanging around for too long, so some of these are ones where my enthusiasm wore off a bit after requesting them. But hopefully it will revive once I start reading…

Factual

dead-wakeHaving thoroughly enjoyed Larson’s earlier The Devil in the White City, I’ve been wanting to read this one for ages…

The Blurb says: On 1st May 1915, the luxury ocean liner Lusitania sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool. Her passengers were anxious. Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone and its submarines were bringing terror to the Atlantic.

But the Lusitania’s captain, William Thomas Turner, had faith in the gentlemanly terms of warfare that had, for a century, kept civilian ships safe from attack. He also knew that his ship was the fastest then in service and could outrun any threat. Germany was, however, intent on changing the rules, and Walther Schwieger, the captain of Unterseeboot-20, was happy to oblige. For this would be the ill-fated Lusitania’s final crossing . . .

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Crime

murder-of-a-ladyCourtesy of NetGalley. These British Library re-issues of forgotten classics have been a mixed bag – some great, some showing why they were forgotten. But they’re all interesting as an insight into how the genre has developed over the years…

The Blurb says:  Duchlan Castle is a gloomy, forbidding place in the Scottish Highlands. Late one night the body of Mary Gregor, sister of the laird of Duchlan, is found in the castle. She has been stabbed to death in her bedroom – but the room is locked from within and the windows are barred. The only tiny clue to the culprit is a silver fish’s scale, left on the floor next to Mary’s body. Inspector Dundas is dispatched to Duchlan to investigate the case. The Gregor family and their servants are quick – perhaps too quick – to explain that Mary was a kind and charitable woman. Dundas uncovers a more complex truth, and the cruel character of the dead woman continues to pervade the house after her death. Soon further deaths, equally impossible, occur, and the atmosphere grows ever darker. Superstitious locals believe that fish creatures from the nearby waters are responsible; but luckily for Inspector Dundas, the gifted amateur sleuth Eustace Hailey is on the scene, and unravels a more logical solution to this most fiendish of plots...

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Fiction

the-presidents-hatCourtesy of NetGalley. This could be a lot of fun, or it could be unbearably twee. Time will tell…

The Blurb says: Dining alone in an elegant Parisian brasserie, accountant Daniel Mercier can hardly believe his eyes when President François Mitterrand sits down to eat at the table next to him.

Daniel’s thrill at being in such close proximity to the most powerful man in the land persists even after the presidential party has gone, which is when he discovers that Mitterrand’s black felt hat has been left behind.

After a few moments’ soul-searching, Daniel decides to keep the hat as a souvenir of an extraordinary evening. It’s a perfect fit, and as he leaves the restaurant Daniel begins to feel somehow … different.

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Crime

the-eskimo-solutionCourtesy of NetGalley. I’ve had a mixed reaction to the Garnier novellas I’ve read to date, so I’m approaching this with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension…

The Blurb says: A crime writer uses the modest advance on his latest novel to rent a house on the Normandy coast.

There should be little to distract him from his work besides walks on the windswept beach, but as he begins to tell the tale of forty-something Louis – who, after dispatching his own mother, goes on to relieve others of their burdensome elderly relations – events in his own life begin to overlap with the work of his imagination.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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