RogerBW's Blog

The Affair of the Mutilated Mink, James Anderson 22 October 2016

1981 somewhat parodic cosy detective fiction; second of Anderson's novels of the Earl of Burford and Inspector Wilkins. After the last one, the Earl swore off house-parties, but it seems it's all happening again. Including the murder.

Once more, Anderson parodies the 1930s country-house murder mystery, this time rather more explicitly. Not only does Wilkins comment on the crime wave among the upper classes:

'Never a week goes by without a nobleman being murdered in his library - oh, beg pardon, didn't mean to alarm you - or a don in his study, or an heiress in her bath. And where's it left me? Oh, I've made Chief Inspector, true—'

but this time there's also a Great Detective, brought in from Scotland Yard to oversee the case.

'I'll say so, sir. He's a real lone wolf. Doesn't even have a sergeant to assist him - only his own valet, man called Chalky White. Ex-cat burglar. Mr Allgood saved his life years ago, climbed up a high building and brought him down after a drainpipe broke. Then persuaded the judge to give him a reduced sentence.'

He's also a pompous ass. And there's the film mogul and the actor, the hard-up scriptwriter scrounging a weekend away, the two suitors for the hand of the Earl's daughter Lady Geraldine, the Countess's long-lost cousin and her husband… as always, practically everyone has a hidden motive, and few people are what they appear. When one of the suitors is found standing over the body of another guest with a gun in his hand, even he admits that it must look bad for him - to the point that he bolts.

In fact the reader has no chance of solving all the various puzzles on the information given. It is, however, entirely possible to solve the murder itself (I know because I did). More importantly as far as I'm concerned, all the character are interesting (even the pompous ones) and feel like people as well as the stereotypes they so obviously represent. The plot itself is rather more complex than the Golden Age usually allowed, there's perhaps a little too much farce as the wrong people get accused of midnight shenanigans, and there isn't enough of Wilkins as he willingly allows himself to be overshadowed by the Great Man, but overall the book holds together and I found it highly enjoyable.

There are some rather clumsy name-drops of Peter Wimsey, John Appleby and Roderick Alleyn; rather more elegantly done is a list of books including

Ariadne Oliver's Death of a Debutante, The Screaming Bone by Annette de la Tour, Richard Eliot's The Spider Bites Back

At the end Wilkins is called away to a school murder:

'The matron [...] Found hanging in the gym, her hands tied behind her back. [...] The odd thing is, sir, she was wearing a Red Indian headdress.'

If you love this sort of thing, as I do, and are willing to see it parodied by someone who very clearly knows his stuff, highly recommended. Followed by The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks.

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