Genre: Detective Fiction, Classics,
Synopsis: Horatio Leavenworth is found dead at his writing desk in his library which is locked. He has been shot in the back of the head so suicide is quickly ruled out and a stranger could not have got into the house and no one suspicious was spotted. Eyes turn to the various members of his family and staff.
I love a locked room mystery and as this was an early example, I expected that I would enjoy it. And in fact, it is not the mystery elements of the novel that caused me to feel irritated with it.
The story started well, with the appearance of Leavenworth’s personal secretary in the office of Everett Raymond, saying that his boss has been shot. Raymond rushes to the spot and along with superb detective Mt Gryce, they conclude that Leavenworth knew his killer as he did not even turn his head when he heard footsteps behind him. Clues point clearly towards one of Leavenworth’s nieces as she refuses to explain how she came into possession of the key to the library. Bryce, however, is unconvinced and sets about trying to out the actual murderer.
There is nothing really wrong with the ideas behind the story. Red herrings abound and even at the end, when Raymond thinks that the mystery has been solved, Gryce proves that he is the superior detective by tricking the real killer out into the open. However, from a modern perspective, schooled as I am in reading and watching detective fiction, it was hard to be surprised. I guess it’s unfair to judge a book in such a way. It is clear why this might have been so influential on writers such as Agatha Christie but it is difficult to read outside of your own time and this seemed a little clunky to me.
Even so, that is not what drove my rating down. That was due to the narrative voice of Mr Raymond which was given to exclamation and went running off up blind alleys. Of course, this was his role, to lead the reader in the wrong direction but because he was so excitable, I never really had any faith in him and assumed that his answer was the wrong one. This is another hangover from reading other detective fiction. No one is to be trusted to tell you the truth or get things right.
Really, I wish I had read this earlier in my reading career as I’m sure I would have liked it more. Unfortunately, it fell victim to the very books, it likely influenced.