The Hog’s Back Mystery is another Golden Age mystery featuring Inspector French. This mystery is much more elaborate than Antidote to Venom, the other Crofts mystery I read, featuring four murders, and is set in rural Surrey.
Ursula Stone has arrived at the railroad station in Ash to visit Julia Earle and her sister Marjorie Lawes, her schoolmates from long ago. The first part of the novel is from Ursula’s point of view, and she is surprised to see how distantly Julia treats her husband James, a retired doctor. She is also a little shocked to see how casually Julia behaves with an infatuated neighbor, Reggie Slade.
Ursula is off visiting her friend Alice Campion when James Earle disappears. Both sisters testify that he was settled down in his den for the evening when they last saw him. He was dressed only in thin shoes suitable for inside and did not take his overcoat.
Inspector French is called in when James doesn’t reappear and no one can discover a trace of him. Soon afterwards, French finds that a nurse also went missing around the same time. Her name is Helen Nankivel, and French at first supposes Earle and the nurse have run off together. But the people who know Helen Nankivel insist that she wouldn’t do such a thing. However, she did meet Dr. Earle when they both attended the last illness of Mr. Frazer, a wealthy old man.
French explores many theories, but he is just about to decide that Earle ran off with Nurse Nankivel when Ursula Stone disappears, under remarkably similar circumstances. She was upstairs in her room at the Earles’ while Julia and Marjorie entertained the Campions downstairs. Later, when summoned for dinner, she was nowhere to be found. But Mr. French finds evidence that someone was standing behind a bush outside the den and finds blood in Earle’s den.
Like many Golden Age mysteries, The Hog’s Back Mystery a complicated solution. In fact, it is so complicated that it must be explained in a 20-page last chapter, which makes the novel lose quite a bit of impetus. Still, I was able to guess the broad strokes of the solution very early on by simply paying attention to what her friends said about the nurse. It took French a good hundred pages to catch up with me. So, not the best of these reprinted mysteries by Poison Pen Press, but I love the cover.