RogerBW's Blog

The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks, James Anderson 27 March 2017

2003 somewhat parodic cosy detective fiction; third and last of Anderson's novels of the Earl of Burford and Inspector Wilkins. The last two house parties at Alderley ended in murder, but surely there can't be any harm in having people down for Great-Aunt Flossie's funeral and the reading of her will?

This last book of the loose trilogy came out twenty years after the first two, though I suspect it was written earlier. The sense of humour and exaggerated characters are the same, and if there's a little less energy there's also more effort expended in making sure everything's cleared up by the end.

The designated victim, a woman who's made a minor career out of getting confidences out of servants and selling the dirt to newspapers, is snubbed at the will, accuses the other heirs of a conspiracy to poison Great-Aunt Flossie's mind against her, and threatens to reveal all their secrets. Then she goes to bed. One can hardly be surprised when she's found smothered in the morning.

There's some reference to earlier books, but Anderson goes out of his way to avoid mentioning the resolutions of those mysteries, and one could jump in here without much trouble. The earlier murders have had an effect, though: the Burfords are distinctly hesitant to entertain in any way, and when he arrives Wilkins is greeted as a friend of the family. (He's back to being the lead investigator here, which suits him better than second fiddle.)

The usual cast is here: the ne'er-do-well young man, the QC, the MP, the cousin who's been in America for ten years, the downtrodden daughter, and so on. Most of them are introduced in their native habitats before we see them at Alderley, which helps give a better impression of who they are when they're not in company. There's spiritualism and stolen toothpaste. And of course the thirty-nine cufflinks strewn on the floor near the body.

There's contrivance, of course, as there tends to be in a complex murder mystery, but it has reasons for its existence. There's never any trouble keeping track of who's who. I only realised that something was meant to be unexpected when nobody talked about it, and that pointed the way to the murderer's identity, but that's made up for by the resolution of the case and the other matters that have come up during the stay.

I recommend the whole series, but particularly the first and this one.

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