Monday, November 4, 2019

back to the 20s and my happy place again: Inspector French's Greatest Case, by Freeman Wills Crofts

9780008190583
Collins Crime Club/Harper Collins, 2016
originally published 1924
297 pp

paperback

With the sun beginning to set earlier now, there is nothing like curling up with a good cup of tea and a mystery that  delivers a bit of a one-two punch of a twist before all is said and done.  The hero of the day is Inspector Joseph French, referred to (behind his back, of course) by his colleagues at the Yard as "Soapy Joe," a moniker based on his reputation as being "quite a good fellow at heart."   In an introduction to this particular edition in which we "Meet Chief-Inspector French" written by the author in 1935 (and also found here at Classic Crime Fiction) we also learn that "Politeness is an obsession with him," and that
"He's decent and he's as kindly as his job will allow.  He believes that if you treat people decently -- you'll be able to get more out of them; and he acts on his belief."  
As far as this particular case being his "greatest," well, I'll admit that I have no clue there, since there will be twenty-nine more cases for the Inspector to solve, the last published in 1957.  In this book, the series opener and the first French mystery I've read, he is brought in to solve the case of a murder of a Mr. Gething, the head clerk of diamond merchants Duke and Peabody.  The firm's safe is open, "three-and-thirty thousand pounds" worth of diamonds are gone, along with a thousand pounds in notes.  Despite a number of clues and a number of suspects, the case is anything but open and shut, and "days slipped by" without any progress, causing the Inspector no end of frustration.  It is a bafflement that will continue to dog French as the case takes him on a series of travels beginning in Switzerland, leading him eventually to a ship on its way to Brazil; he always seems to be close but at each step, just as he feels he's getting somewhere, he hits the proverbial wall as events transpire to put barriers between himself and a solution. 



original British cover, 1924, from The Passing Tramp



In Crofts' introduction he states that
"Anyone about to perpetrate a detective novel must first decide whether his detective is to be brilliant and a 'character' or a mere ordinary humdrum personality."
Speaking of "humdrum," in 1972, Julian Symons would write in his Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel that Crofts was
"not just a typical, but also the best, representative of what may be called the Humdrum school of detective novelists..."
of whom "most came late to writing fiction, and few had much talent for it."   His feeling was that they
"had some skill in constructing puzzles, nothing more, and ironically they fulfilled much better than Van Dine and his dictum that the detective story properly belonged in the category of riddles and crossword puzzles."  (118)
As Curt Evans explains in his book Masters of the "Humdrum"Mystery,   Symons was referring to a group of writers who "placed far greater emphasis on puzzle construction and adherence to fair play detection than on characterization and stylish writing," which he notes is "fair enough."   However,  Evans also notes that in his view, "Symons insufficiently values the great technical sophistication of the plots in the best works of these authors,"  and that
"this school of mystery fiction has been unjustly disparaged by Julian Symons and the many critics who have adopted his views."  (2012, Location 191).  
French may not be the most brilliant detective ever (and Crofts reveals in the introduction that "many people call him dull"), but he never lets go, remains completely methodical and detail oriented throughout, and he is not averse to listening to his wife's flashes of insight when she comes up with an idea that sparks the light bulb over his head that will move him another step along in his investigation.  "Thoroughness and perseverance" are qualities that the author has given his detective, and admittedly, French does not "leap to his conclusions by brilliant intuition."   In short, he's a regular guy, he gets things wrong, and keeps trying until he gets it right.   Personally, I found myself rooting for Inspector French along the way and actually feeling sorry for him as things continued to go wrong.  If you want dazzling detective, you won't find that here; Inspector French's Greatest Case has much more in common with police procedurals and Crofts had obviously spent a great deal of time meticulously plotting each step of this mystery. 

As far as the twist, I had actually figured this bit out but it was not too long before French himself did, so the experience was unlike when I read detective novels in which I guess things early on, which is a plus.  And "humdrum" or not, I quite enjoyed Inspector French and I quite enjoyed the book, enough so that  I've been slowly stockpiling these Harper editions so that I can look forward to more of Soapy Joe's cases in the future.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

'tis the season, part two: He Arrived at Dusk, by R.C. Ashby.

9781939140449
Valancourt Books, 2013
originally published 1933
218 pp

paperback

Another book I pulled off the shelf for October reading, He Arrived at Dusk gave me such immense pleasure that I actually applauded at the end.  I do that sometimes (little claps and a "bravo" here and there that no one but myself can hear) when I like a novel as much as I enjoyed this one.  It really is the perfect crime read for the Halloween season, as the author blends mystery and more than a hint of the supernatural, and does it in a rather ingenious fashion.  And what is there not to love about the cover art?

For a short blurb about the author, Ruby Constance Ashby (Ferguson), you can click on through to Valancourt's website. 

As is revealed at the outset,
"The story as here presented is in three parts; three stories in one, three points of view; in fact, murder through the eyes of three men of widely differing mentality and outlook."
The first of these is Mertoun's account, which begins as he is in his club.  Something he's heard has seriously distressed him, and he reveals to another gentleman that he is "haunted."  That man, a certain Mr. Ahrman, has him relate what's happened to him over the previous three weeks; Mertoun agrees, in the hope that Ahrman will believe what will turn out to be a rather bizarre story.    It seems that Mertoun had been engaged by a certain Colonel Barr  to "value the contents" of his remote house in the Northumberland moors, The Broch, which derived its name from a nearby ancient ruin of a tower said to be haunted.   On entering the house to begin his work he immediately experiences a "hideous feeling,"  a "coldness" that hit him like "an electric shock from an unearthly battery."  After waiting some time, he meets Charlie Barr, who reveals to him that his uncle is ill, confined to his room, and is under the charge of a nurse, and that nobody is allowed to see him, not even his nephew.   The next day he also learns that the house has its own resident poltergeist.  When he finally meets the nurse, Miss Goff, she offers him another job, to arrange and catalogue the books in the Colonel's library, a task which should take Mertoun about two weeks.   It is during that time that Charlie tells him the story of an ancient Roman soldier whose ghost haunts the area around the Broch.  The legend is well known by the locals of the nearby village, who refuse to go anywhere near it, except for a shepherd who has, it seems, taken his flock to the tower ruins.    It is also during this time that he begins to experience some strange experiences in the house, which culminate in a rather bizarre seance (!) held there at the behest of a local doctor who wishes to contact his wife; it is shortly after this event that a seemingly-impossible, ghostly murder occurs.  However, that's not the only shock that awaits the inhabitants of the house.



RC Ashby, from Persephone Books


As Mark Valentine notes in his introduction, He Arrived at Dusk  is a "chilling story of apparitions, uncanny incidents, and dark legends... " and clearly the author has laid the foundations for such a tale  in the way she evokes the atmosphere that permeates this entire story.  The house at the edge of Northern Sea, the moors that could swallow an unsuspecting person,  the periodic sweeping of the lighthouse beam across the landscape, and the superstition surrounding the old tower itself all combine to create the perfect backdrop for what takes place here.  Add to that Mertoun's own sense of something "hideous" on entering the house for the first time and his recounting of his own strange experiences there, the mysterious Nurse Goff, and the scene is more than set for the strangeness that follows in the next two accounts.   However, there is also a seriously good mystery at the heart of it all, and as a keen reader of these old novels, for me the solution was almost as satisfying as the journey. 

For devotees of these older books, or for people looking for something a wee bit different than your standard British mystery, you really can't do much better.  He Arrived at Dusk is one of those hidden gems I live to discover, and my serious thanks go to Valancourt for bringing it back into print. 


Monday, October 7, 2019

'tis the season, part one: A House of Ghosts, by W.C. Ryan

9781948924719
Arcade Publishing, first North American edition, 2019
384 pp

hardcover

October reading is generally given over to the strange and the supernatural, so when I heard about A House of Ghosts, I picked it up and on the list it went. 

It's winter, 1917, and a group of people are gathering at Blackwater Abbey at the time of the winter solstice.   The house is on the "remote" Blackwater Island off the coast of Devon, and the guests  of the owners, the Highmounts, will be there to try to contact the dead, hopefully their sons who died during the war.    Two mediums will be in attendance, and the house is the perfect location for doing so, since it has a "reputation" for its ghostly inhabitants, "a mixed group, from several different centuries." Kate Cartwright is more than aware of their existence; she not only seems to have clairvoyant abilities, but has also actually seen these ghosts.  Kate had prevously been invited to Blackwater Abbey along with her parents but had declined;  her plans change however when she is given an assignment by the Intelligence Service -- she is to make her way to the island in the company of her ex-fiancé Captain Rolleston Miller-White, who in turn will be attended by his valet, an undercover Intelligence officer by the name of Donovan.  It will be Donovan's job there to investigate the leak of some plans that had ended up in the hands of the Germans and to discover exactly whoever it was that had passed the classified information.  Since the house is located on an island, the only way to and from there is by their hosts' boat,  making it even more of a closed-circle type mystery; a storm soon traps everyone on the island, but who among them is it? 

I ask you, how could anyone  not enjoy a novel with a  remote island setting, a storm that makes it impossible for anyone to leave, an old house where spirits roam freely, a mystery involving spies,  a murder, and best of all the promise of a seance to bring forth even more spirits (I am HUGE fangirl of novels where there is a seance or two)?  These are all elements that tick my mystery/supernatural-reading buttons, but I was left completely unfazed.   By page 85 I was ready to scream because nothing had happened; by page 155 I was rejoicing that something had finally happened; even the dustjacket blurb promise that "soon one of their number will die" doesn't happen until over one hundred pages after that.  Given the fact that blurbers for this book referred to it as a "chilling ghost story," "a multilayered, gothic masterpiece," or "unbearably creepy," I had high hopes, but I was seriously let down.  Even the ending was a big what??  and believe it or not, I had a huge chunk of this thing figured out long before getting there.  And let's not even go there with the ghosts that haunt Blackwater Abbey -- I don't even get why they were included.  Trust me, traditional ghost stories over the ages are part of my reading bread and butter, and  the blurber who said to "think Agatha Christie meets M.R. James"  may get it right on the Christie end, this is definitely NOT  M.R. James.   




That's me again, the red fish swimming the wrong way against the tide, since I seem to be in the minority of people that didn't care for this book.  Most readers are absolutely thrilled by this novel giving it very, very high ratings in the usual places; sadly I'm not one of them. 



Monday, September 30, 2019

Queen's Gambit, by Bradley Harper, new from Seventh Street Books

9781645060017
Seventh Street Books, 2019
282 pp

paperback



I'm reading more modern crime novels than I'd planned for this year, but in this case (and in another coming up shortly), it's all good. As with books from other genres I read,  I am all about supporting smaller indie presses whose work may go unnoticed in favor of the bigger guys  -- in this case it's Seventh Street Press, and I have another one of their books propped up on my bookstand waiting to be read.

Some time ago I read this author's A Knife in the Fog, and now he's back with book two in this historical crime series with Queen's Gambit.  In the meantime, Knife in the Fog was nominated as a finalist for the 2019 Edgar Award for best first novel. 

It's no secret (and I did say this when I posted about the author's earlier book) that I'm not in love with the idea of remaking historical figures into fictional ones, but I will say that in my case, at least Margaret Harkness is not so prominent a personage  that I can't live with her taking center stage in this novel.   Nine years have gone by since the case that introduced her in Knife in the Fog; during that time she's become a published author with books that are read widely.  It is in fact one woman's changed perception of Harkness that helps kick off this story. 

 In 1881, more than fifteen years prior to the time in which the bulk of the action takes place here, a young man found himself having to flee Imperial Russia after his mother was imprisoned for her role as a member of the group responsible for the assassination of Czar Alexander II.   Having been sent to Berlin to hide, young Viktor Zhelyabov became Herman Ott, married, and had a son.  He is living with his wife's family when he is offered electrical work that he can't refuse because the pay would be "a substantial increase" in his regular salary, needed for his "growing family." 

One month later, it seems that the "nest of traitors" that the German government has been trying to root out has somehow gotten wind about every plan made by  the Security Services, and government officials have no idea how this is happening.   An investigation is required, and it must be "someone from outside."   One official has just the right suggestion, to bring in Professor Joseph Bell, since he has helped the police in his own country a number of times.  Bell brings in Margaret Harkness because of her German language ability and because of their prior experiences together, and she is more than willing -- due to health reasons, she is planning to go to Australia for health reasons, and the fee and the bonus she would receive would allow her to pay for her passage.   The solution of the case will have a huge impact on both Ott and Margaret Harkness,  one that will play out on the streets of London. 


 Despite the subtitle that labels this "a mystery," it seems to read much more along the lines of a thriller, as time is ticking down here until the main event, the planned assassination of (as it says on the cover blurb so it's not a spoiler) "none other than Queen Victoria herself."  [As an aside, the front cover with her majesty's face in crosshairs also sort of gives away the plot even before you get to the back cover, but moving on...]    In fact, the only real mystery is solved early on by Bell and Harkness (and I will add that I figured it out long before they did); afterwards we already know the who, so as it turns out he's not really the "mysterious assassin" of the back cover blurb.    Let me also say that this story is what I call "thriller lite" as the author adds in various threads including a potential romance and a young female detective wannabe who is taken under Margaret's wing.   It's more the fare for readers of lighter crime, and to be very honest, my own feeling is that there is a lot of superfluous stuff that from time to time detracts from the suspense level -- for example, an entire chapter about Margaret's history with tarot cards as well as  reunions with Conan Doyle and Mark Twain (who were both in the first novel).  Then there's  Margaret herself -- while she's a very independent woman and has figured out that dressing like a man gets her into places a woman can't go, she seems a wee bit softer with less of an edge than she had in Knife in the Fog; she also makes some pretty bad mistakes during the course of the story that seem somewhat out of character.   Believe it or not, the character's point of view I cared about the most was that of the bad guy; the clue is in understanding how the titular "Queen's Gambit" works on the chessboard, and the author has explained all of that in the book. 

As I said in my post about Knife in the Fog, the author can definitely write, and I am very grateful to the powers that be at Seventh Street for my copy. While it was entertaining, and while I'll certainly be looking forward to book three,  I actually prefer  a more taut, edgy mystery, so I'm probably not the best or target audience for this book.   That is certainly not because of the author -- it's definitely a me thing.   At the same time,  that certainly doesn't mean that others aren't enjoying it, since reader ratings are for the most part consistently four and five stars both on Goodreads and Amazon.  I'd certainly recommend this novel to, as I said earlier, readers who like their crime on the lighter side and don't mind a few excursions elsewhere outside of the main plot thread. 

***

An article about The Queen's Gambit by Tom Williams at Historical Novel Society




Thursday, September 19, 2019

back through the time tunnel again with a classic: The House of the Arrow, by A.E.W. Mason, 1924

9780755117475
House of Stratus, 2012
originally published 1924
263 pp

paperback

"Did I not tell you, Monsieur, that we are all the servants of Chance?" 


Fourteen years prior to publishing The House of the Arrow, writer A.E.W. Mason had first introduced to the mystery/crime-reading world his somewhat eccentric detective Inspector  Hanaud of the Sûreté in his At the Villa Rose.  That one I just liked on an "okay" sort of level, mainly because of  Mason's proclivities toward what Martin Edwards refers to in his The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books a "lop-sided story structure," in which all too soon the culprit is made known and readers sit patiently (or not, depending on your makeup) waiting for the rest of the story to play out.    House of the Arrow thankfully poses a bit more of a challenge for the reader, so at least for me there was not one iota of frustration here.  This one I quite enjoyed, spending an entire day entranced with it and then finishing off the experience by watching the 1953 film (more on that later) before going on to order the next Hanaud novel, The Prisoner in the Opal (1928). 

just as an aside and an FYI,  while my copy is a hold-in-your-hands reprint edition, House of the Arrow is also available at Project Gutenberg if you lean toward the e-variety of reading:


Before this story moves on to Dijon, France, it begins in the London office of the firm of Messrs. Frobisher and Haslitt, solicitors,  on the east side of Russell Square.  Among the other letters in that day's batch of mail is one written in an unfamiliar, "spidery, uncontrolled hand" postmarked Dijon.  Haslitt has a client there, a Mrs. Harlowe, a widow whose health is not so great.  The letter is not from her however, but from someone by the name of Boris Waberski,  Mrs. Harlowe's brother-in-law, who has a "great necessity" of part of the "large share" of the fortune he is certain he will inherit upon her death.  The letter is ignored, and three weeks later, Mrs. Harlowe's death is announced in The Times. Haslitt knows he'll hear from Waberski again, and sure enough he does, except that this time the news comes that Waberski has levelled a charge of murder against Mrs. Harlowe's "husband's niece and adopted daughter" Betty Harlowe.  It seems that Waberski's expectations were all for naught, since Betty has inherited the entire estate, and now he claims that she poisoned the widow on the night of August 27th.  The news does not come from Waberski directly, but via a letter from a friend of young Betty, Ann Upcott.  Frobisher and Haslitt are further upset by a telegram coming from Betty herself, which informs the two attorneys that she needs help right away -- it seems that "The Prefect of Police has called in Hanaud, "  and that she believes "They must think me guilty."   Haslitt sends Jim Frobisher to Dijon to look into their client's situation, but before Frobisher leaves, Haslitt says something to him that quite succinctly and tantalizingly  summarizes the rest of the story: 
"...remember, there's something at the back of this which we here don't know."
Truer words were never spoken, as Jim will come to discover as he makes his way to France and meets up with Inspector Hanaud, who accompanies him to Dijon to work on a case of some serious poisoned-pen letters in the area.   




original cover, from Project Gutenberg

The House of the Arrow is by no means your average murder mystery. First, there is some question as whether or not a murder has even been committed; when that issue is settled, the question of who may be guilty takes on a life of its own.  While Frobisher is somewhat in awe of Hanaud, his own feelings about the matter and his own particular personal interests often pit him against the Inspector, even as they work together to get to the truth and as Hanaud's discoveries lead to even bigger questions that need further answers.  In short,  Mason is not (thankfully) going to let his readers off the hook by making it easy this time as he did in At the Villa Rose.  I will say that after finishing this novel I read a couple of posts about this book in which a few people had figured it out, but for  me the solution was a surprise; even better than finding out the who  though was the path to the why and especially the how.   Pardon me for rambling here for a moment,  but I was just talking to someone  the other day about how old school I am with mystery stories, preferring the journey much more than the solution itself;  House of the Arrow affords that very pleasure.  

The blogger at Vintage Pop Fictions notes that 
"This novel includes just about every ingredient that critics of golden age detective fiction love to mock... On the other hand, the ingredients that cause critics to gnash their teeth are exactly the ingredients that fans of golden age detection (like myself) adore. To a true fan the more outlandish these elements are the better and in this instance they're delightfully outlandish." 
I couldn't have said it better.   Count me as "a true fan," who thrives on the "delightfully outlandish."  




movie poster, 1953, from Rare Film

The film, on the other hand, was a bit of a puzzler.  The way the film is shot gives it a noirish vibe,  but having read the novel, it lacks the elements that make the book both mysterious and suspenseful.  I get creative license and all that it encompasses, and I did enjoy the film for what it was, but I was left with the feeling that there could have been much more to it than what I saw.  I will say though that I immediately checked to see if Oscar Homolka had reprised his role as M. Hanaud; like Bruno Cremer is for me the Maigret, Homolka is the perfect Hanaud, capturing Mason's character's eccentricities so well.  I can only imagine he'd read the novel beforehand to do it so well.  


Holmoka as Hanaud, on the left, from Mystery*File

This book runs rings around its predecessor and I recommend it to readers of Golden Age detective fiction, for readers who like puzzle-style mysteries in general, and to people like myself who enjoy a good yarn that is cleverly constructed, one that takes a number of twists and turns along the way.     Remember, though, it is a product of the early 1920s, so perhaps it may be a bit verbose for modern readers getting to it for the first time.  Then there's Hanaud himself -- he can be both annoying twit and genius crime solver at the same time, so it takes a patient reader at times to get over his personality.  It is, however,  perfect for someone like me who, as noted earlier, enjoys the path much more than the end of the journey.   






Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves

9781250204448
Minotaur/St. Martin's Press
375 pp

hardcover



"We all need secrets, just to keep sane, to feel that the world doesn't own us." 



Let me just say this:  I did not particularly care for the one book I've read by this author, Raven Black, and I never went on to read any of her other novels,  but for some weird reason when I first heard about The Long Call, I preordered it.  To this day I can't think why, but as it turns out, it was a good call.  I spent all of yesterday reading it, unable to put it down.


"... the cry of a herring gull, ... the long call, which always sounded to him like an inarticulate howl of pain."


 And indeed, the long call sounds throughout this novel, which takes place in a  small town in North Devon, centering on the murder of a man with an albatross tattooed on his neck. Given the nature of the tattoo, I immediately figured out that this must have been a person suffering under the weight of some heavy burdens, and as things begin to unfold, it turns out that I was right.   Investigating the crime is Detective Matthew Venn, who had once lived in the area and had broken from a particular religious group to which he and his family had belonged, estranging him from his parents.   Working with his colleagues Jen Rafferty and Ross May, he discovers that the victim is one Simon Walden, a man whose past had left him completely broken.  Walden had been living at the home of Caroline Preece, where he had rented a room along with Caroline's friend Gaby Henry; he had also been  involved as a volunteer at the Day Centre at the Woodyard, a sort of artistic safe place for people with learning and other disabilities, managed by Venn's husband Jonathan.  When a woman with Downs Syndrome goes missing from the Woodyard, Venn begins to surmise that the two cases are somehow connected, and that there is something just a bit off -- there  is "too much coincidence. Too many people circling round each other, without quite touching."   He also realizes that it is  quite possibly the Woodyard itself that is the connection,  putting him in the uncomfortable position of having to decide whether or not to withdraw himself from the case because of his personal ties. Before he can make that decision however, little by little the investigation begins to uncover hidden secrets from the past that just may have a direct bearing on the present.   To say any more would be to spoil, but the story revolves around unraveling those secrets to get to a solution.

And what a solution it is, a complete surprise (for the most part),  but it is the getting there that really matters.  The Long Call is refreshingly free of gratuitous violence or sex, affords the armchair detective  a solid mystery, and the author spends quite a lot of time on the main characters in terms of thoughts and backstories.   She also manages to weave in a number of social issues without being in your face about it, and above all, takes her time in allowing the story to unfold, allowing the questions and the suspense to accumulate  on the way to solving the mysteries in this novel.  As I looked through reader reviews after finishing it, I noticed a lot of people found it too slow (??)  but for me it was absolutely on point.  My only negative is that most of an entire chapter  could have been left out here (chapter 29, in which Caroline and her father do a bit of emotional sparring and then come to terms with each other)  that to me added nothing whatsoever to this story.

This book begins another series, evidently, given the blurb on the front that says "Introducing Detective Matthew Venn."  I was so impressed with The Long Call that I will be definitely be in line to buy Venn's next adventure.    I'm still not sure what prompted me to preorder this book (Twilight Zone music playing in my head here), but I'm happy I did.

A bit dark for cozy readers, and not quite as edgy a story that might be enjoyed by noir fans, I can recommend it for those who enjoy a good mystery without the clutter that is all too often included in a lot of modern crime fiction these days. 





Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith, by Patricia Wentworth

9781911413097
Dean Street Press, 2016
originally published 1923
208 pp

paperback

It's been eons since I've read a novel by Patricia Wentworth, and like most of her fans I spent many hours devouring her Miss Silver mysteries. The intro to that series, Grey Mask, was published in 1928, but Wentworth had already written and had published a number of mysteries beginning five years earlier.  The Astonishing Adventure of  Jane Smith is the first of these, but unlike the author's Miss Silver novels, the "impecunious and intrepid heroine" of this story is in her early twenties.   

Young Renata Molloy has been a sleepwalker since her childhood, and as this story begins, she has inadvertently and unfortunately made her way into a meeting being held in her father's London flat. She is discovered just as one of the members of this insidious anarchist organization  happens to mention "Annihilation of the whole human race!" and of course, they want to know what she's heard.  In another part of the city, Jane Smith is sitting on a park bench counting out all the money she has left in the world, some two shillings and eleven pence, when she is approached by a young man, Arnold Todhunter,  who has mistaken her for the woman he loves, Renata Molloy. The resemblance between the two is uncanny, but it turns out that Jane and Renata are cousins; they are not at all close,  but their mothers were twins and as Jane puts it, "I have always understood that we were very much alike."  They are enough alike that Todhunter tells her of his discovery of Renata being held prisoner in her father's flat, and that according to Renata, she can't leave because her captors will only track her down, "find her and kill her."   Todhunter is to leave for Bolivia within three days and would like to take Renata with him, so he comes up with a most bizarre idea.  Would Jane consent to taking Renata's place in the flat (he can sneak her in via the fire escape) so that Renata would be safe from her "position of deadly peril?"   Jane, who has visions of "the workhouse" once her money runs out, agrees to the plan.  Luckily, she has the foresight to call on an old friend, Henry Luttrell of Scotland Yard CID, before the switch is made.  Also fortunate for Jane, she is no coward, not averse to taking risks,  and she has an amazing ability to think on her feet when necessary.  She will definitely have to call on those skills once she is moved from London to a house in the country, where her "astonishing adventure" truly begins. 



from AbeBooks, first edition cover

 The novel is a combination of mystery and spy story, with some romance added in on top of the action. There are secret passages to be explored, lots of government and villainous intrigue, secret formulas, and  strange people coming and going.  Meanwhile Jane as Renata is still in the precarious position as to whether or not her captors plan to eliminate her for what she may have overheard, but  she's not about to just let it happen without doing something.  No timid rabbit here. 

I had absolutely no clue that this book was going to be as much fun as it was, truly what I'd call a rollicking adventure. As for the mystery (which for me came down to identifying a certain personage), well, as it turned out, I was patting myself on the back not too far into the story thinking "can it be any more obvious?" then feeling like a total dope when all was actually revealed.  Let's just say that I was right, but I was wrong all at the same time,  always a positive. Above all, it was great fun for a few hours, and I am eager to get hopping on all of the non-Miss Silver adventures I've missed. 

Definitely recommended for those fans of Golden Age mystery fiction who are looking for something quite outside the norm.