RogerBW's Blog

The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy, James Anderson 03 February 2016

1975 cosy detective fiction; first of Anderson's novels of the Earl of Burford and Inspector Wilkins. Some time in the 1930s, there's a house party at Alderley, including the Earl's political brother and the foreign dignitaries he's negotiating with, an American millionaire called Hiram, and various others. Nobody is quite what they seem, and that's even before jewels start going missing and guests start turning up dead.

This is something of a parody of the English country-house murder mystery, but it's a parody that clearly comes from a place of love. There are certainly humorous touches, but they are never allowed to derail the plot or the characterisation, and there's a perfectly good technical murder mystery in here as well as the Detective Inspector who feels he's been promoted above his abilities, and explains: "Don't expect me to solve anything. I'm not sanguine, not sanguine at all."

In fact it's one of the most complicated murder mysteries I've encountered, with valuable but distinctly functional firearms, a stable clock audible throughout the house so that everyone can remember what time things happened, possible spies, a hugely sophisticated burglar alarm so that nobody can enter or leave the house without setting it off, a secret passage, and comings and goings in the middle of the night narrated by three separate characters and involving most of the others. I'm not ashamed to say I didn't crack this one, though I spotted some of the side issues.

Yes, all right, the characters are mostly archetypes, but so they are in most country-house murder stories. Anderson's enthusiasm for the genre is always visible, and even at the grimmest moments there's a sense of authorial enjoyment, of "see what I did there", for which I'll forgive many more sins than Anderson actually commits. Even the multi-chapter Gathering in the Drawing Room that makes up most of the last quarter of the book, in which various people are put in the frame and then removed from it again, works rather well.

(ObNitPick: there is an error in the matter of the antique pistol, which couldn't have been produced at the date given, but that's sufficiently obscure that I think it may even have been deliberate.)

I shall definitely be reading more in this series. Followed by The Affair of the Mutilated Mink.

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Series: Inspector Wilkins | Next in series: The Affair of the Mutilated Mink

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