When amateur detective Roger Sheringham attends a murder party at the home of mystery writer Ronald Stratton, he is impressed by the gallows with three hanging dummies that Stratton has erected on the roof as a decoration. Little does anyone expect what use it will be put to.
During the party, everyone observes the behavior of Ena Stratton, the wife of Ronald’s brother David. She behaves wildly, always trying to draw attention to herself. She is a deeply unpleasant person, who at one point tries to seduce Roger, and when he doesn’t respond, tells others that he attacked her. She also says several times that she is going to kill herself and threatens the happiness of a couple who are waiting for the woman’s divorce to get married, saying she will write to the magistrate about them having an affair, which of course would negate the divorce in those times. (The book was published in 1933.)
It is this threat that gets her killed. She is up on the roof trying to get sympathy from a party-goer by again threatening suicide and actually putting her head in the noose when her companion removes the chair under her feet.
It’s hard for me to know what to say about this book, for on the one hand, it’s unusual and also more witty than many a detective story. On the other hand, well, wait.
We think we know all along who killed Ena, and it looks like the death will be accepted as a suicide. However, Roger has noticed one piece of evidence that convinces him it’s a murder. Instead of helping the police, he spends the entire novel trying to cover up the murder, thinking he knows who the killer is, but he does not.
This novel was acclaimed for its originality, but the undertones are not so pleasant. Ena is quite despicable, but nothing she does deserves her fate, and in fact she seems mentally ill. That’s one of the problems. Everyone dismisses her as being insane, and almost everyone conspires to help the murderer. I hope I’m not judging this novel by modern standards, but it’s clear that no one feels the least regret at either her death or their own attempts to pervert the course of justice.
So, mixed feelings about this one although a desire to read more by Berkeley. By the way, his hero is exceedingly arrogant, and I got a lot of pleasure out of his getting the crime so wrong and then muddling the evidence so badly that it was almost disastrous.
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.
The Murder of My Aunt
Death of a Bookseller
Murder of a Lady