Murder at the Manor is another collection of classic mystery short stories published by Poisoned Pen Press. Each of these stories is set at a country manor.
This collection features writers the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, G. K. Chesterton, Margery Allingham, and Ethel Lina White. Some of the stories are ingenious, and one is an amusing satire of the genre.
The satire was the story that most stood out, “The Murder at the Towers” by E. V. Knox. Just the first sentence gives a sense of it:
Mr. Ponderby-Wilkins was a man so rich, so ugly, so cross, and so old, that even the stupidest reader could not expect him to survive any longer than Chapter 1.”
And he doesn’t. Mr. Ponderby-Wilkins is found hanging from a tree, suspended by a muffler. His guests decide to “go on playing tennis as reverently as possible” until the detective arrives. When the detective, Bletherby Marge, arrives, he is described as a person who is sometimes mistaken for a baboon. The story continues on to turn the genre on its head.
“The Copper Beeches” by Arthur Conan Doyle is the only story I had previously read. Miss Hunter comes to consult Sherlock Holmes about an unusual offer of employment. She has been offered a job as governess at an inflated wage under the condition she bob her hair. Holmes advises her to take the position but promises to come immediately to her assistance if she summons him. She soon does and explains she has been asked to put on a certain blue dress and sit with her back to the window. Holmes immediately realizes he can prevent a crime.
“The Problem of Dead Wood Hall” by Dick Donovan is another early mystery. This case refers to two mysterious deaths, two years apart, of first Mr. Manville Charnworth and then Mr. Tuscan Trankler. Although no cause of death can be determined, both men show signs of having died the same way. Unfortunately, this story is turgidly written, and the method of murder and identity of the killer are easy to guess.
“Gentlemen and Players” by E. W. Hornung is a Raffles mystery. Raffles takes his friend Bunny along on a weekend at a country house, where they have been invited because Raffles is such a good cricket player. Raffles doesn’t usually rob his hosts, but he resents being invited as if he were an entertainer. And old Lady Melrose has such a nice necklace.
“The Well” by W. W. Jacobs is more of a psychological study than a mystery. Jem Benson is about to be married. He has a cousin, Wilfred Carr, who continually borrows money from him. But this time Wilfred threatens to tell Jem’s fiancée Olive a disreputable secret if he won’t cough up. The two men walk out to the woods near a disused well and only one of them comes back.
“An Unlocked Window” by Ethel Lina White raises a lot of suspense when two nurses are left alone with their patient. A maniac in the neighborhood has been murdering nurses. Nurse Cherry suddenly realizes she left a window unlocked.
“The Mystery of Horne’s Copse” by Anthony Berkeley is quite entertaining, about Hugh Chappell, who stumbles over the corpse of his cousin Frank late one night on the way home from dining with his fiancée’s family. Only the body isn’t there when he brings the police back, and Frank and his wife are on vacation at Lake Como. This is an odd state of affairs, but then it happens again and again until the last time the body is indeed Frank’s, and Hugh is wanted for murder. In this story, I particularly enjoyed Hugh’s spunky fiancée Sylvia.
All in all, I found the collection mixed in quality but enjoyable. Some of the stories are truly suspenseful, and some present a good puzzle.
The Hog’s Back Mystery