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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The Ha-Ha Case by J. J. Connington

Right off, you are wondering what a ha-ha is. It is a construction in very large British grounds such as those which surround stately homes which permits an undisturbed view of the scenery but prohibits animals from wandering out or in. A ditch is dug and a wall is constructed to the top of the ditch on the side from where the viewer would be looking. Thus the view is uninterrupted. An approaching animal from the other side of the ditch is prevented from entering the grounds by the wall.

Now to the mystery. It involves a dispute among the members of the Brandon family over what will be their inheritance from their father when he dies. Their father was a very reckless spender so that the only thing left for them is an entailed estate which they are not sure that they want. There are three brothers. Jim Brandon seems to be the level headed one. Johnnie, who is younger, is a wild careless man who is currently studying management with Mr. Laxford on his estate Edgehill. The older brother is Oswald who has been working on  tourist ships sailing around the world. Initially Jim has come to Edgehill to have a meeting with his brother and to discuss what should be done about the estate.

Mr Laxford decides a shooting party in the morning would be good start to the day. Early in the morning, Laxford, Jim, Johnnie and Mr Hay who is also staying at Edgehill, and who seems to be a business man of some sort, start out on the hunt for rabbits. During the course of the hunt, one of these four men will be dead and his body will be found near the ha-ha.

This will bring in the most curious character in the book, Inspector Hinton. He is completely sure that he is smarted than everybody else. He is sure that he will find the right solution to the identity of the murderer. He is sure that his sergeant is incompetent. Sir Clinton Driffield. the chief constable of the district recognizes Inspector Hinton's ego problems and treats him in a very kindly manner. In the course of the book, Sir Clinton will demonstrate his own skills in crime solving.

The solution of the crime involves a great deal of research into inheritance and insurance and other financial matters. There is also much investigation into the ballistics involved in the murder. In other words, it is very detail oriented. 

J. J. Connington was the pseudonym of Alfred Walter Stewart (1880 - 1947). He received a degree in Chemistry, and went on to become a chemistry professor at the University of Glasgow. During World War I, he worked for the admiralty. He retired in 1944 because of heart problems. The Ha Ha Case which is also known as The Brandon Case was published in 1934. Connington wrote 17 mysteries featuring Sir Clinton Driffield. He also wrote novels, and books on chemistry.

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Circular Staircase by May Roberts Rinehart

 I am taking a new look at Mary Roberts Rinehart. She was a very popular and successful mystery writer in her day. She published many of her novels as serials in magazines. The Circular Staircase which was published in 1908 was her first book to be published in book form. 

She wrote in a time when most mystery stories dealt with a serious male detective who studied a crime which had been already been committed and then found a solution. This is the Sherlock Holmes format. She wrote about characters who were in the midst of crimes being committed. They were frightened, possibly even terrified, but then gathered their wits together and tried to figure out what was going on. This allowed the reader to identify with the characters and follow the steps which would lead to the solution. Frequently the main character was a woman. and she became friends with the police detective who was working on a the case. Possibly she was a bit sharper that the policeman.  If you are familiar with the cozy mystery novels being written today, you will see that this a format which is still being followed today.

This book begins with the sentence "This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newpapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous". This wonderful sentence does provide a summary of the frightening summer experienced by Rachel Innes, a very well to do spinster who rents a house from Paul Armstrong,  a successful banker, for the summer. This is not a summer cottage. It is a very large house with many rooms, and requires her to employ a number of servants. She will be sharing the house with her niece Gertrude Innes and her nephew Halsey Innes

 The house had a reputation for mysterious noises even before she rented it. but things became more frightening when Arnold Armstrong, the son of Paul, was shot to death in the house. Then Rachel became involved with secrets involving the murder, and the relationship of Gertrude and Halsey to members of the Armstrong family. Gertrude was also romantically involved with Jack Bailey who had worked at the bank, and had been accused of stealing a large amount of money. Rachel Innes became very aware that members of her family were keeping secrets from her. Then the Armstrong bank crashed losing a lot of money. The plot is certainly thickening, and Rachel has a lot of things to figure out. 

To avoid making this description of the book overly long, I will tell you that Rachel undertakes her own investigation of the goings on in her rented house. Inspector Jamieson from the police assists but Rachel is the one who will solve the murders and finds the causes of the mysterious events. The ending is quite dramatic and makes enjoyable reading.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

The Red Lamp by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Many people enjoy getting away in the summer to a pleasant rural setting. This was the plan that professor William Porter had in mind for his summer vacation, but what he found was murder and strange and mysterious happenings which made him strongly suspect that he had made a very bad decision. What we have in this book is his journal of his summer with a record of all of the happenings and his comments upon them.

 He and his wife Jane and daughter Edith were going to the country house of Twin Hollows which he had inherited from his recently deceased uncle Horace. Jane, who had visions and premonitions, believed that something was wrong with the house and wouldn't stay there. His dog Jock wouldn't go near it. It was decided that they would stay at the lodge on the grounds of Twin Hollows and
that Edith's boy friend, Warren Halliday,  would stay in the boathouse. They rented out the main house to Mr. Bethel who was a sick old man who was writing a book, and his assistant Gordon who used too much pomade on his hair.

Uncle Horace had died, the doctor said, from a heart attack which caused him to fall down in the hall and hit his head, and he died there in the hall. When professor Porter went through Horace's desk he found a threatening letter which Horace had been writing which had a bloody thumb print on it. If Horace died as suspected how did the blood get on the letter?

Then somebody began killing sheep at the farms in the community and leaving a symbol of a triangle inside of a circle at the site of the dead sheep. This upset the local residents to an extreme degree. I am afraid that the professor does not really consider the locals to be very bright. He does not have much respect for the police either, especially when Inspector Greenough begins to believe that Professor Porter is killing the sheep himself. When these events occur, a red light is seen burning in the empty house at Twin Hollows. There is no red lamp in the house.

Then things grow worse. Murders occur and people disappears The whole community is frightened as are Professor Porter, his family and his neighbors. They even have a seance to try to connect to spirits which could be causing all of these dreadful events. They invited Professor Cameron who is a member of the Society of Physical Research to attend the second seance that they held. His students do not like him and call him "spooks".  It is at this second seance where everything was revealed in this complicated novel. This book is a combination of realistic attempts at detection by Professor Porter, and Warren Halliday, and spiritualism by Jane and her friends. I do not believe that everything was successfully resolved.

How much did Mary Roberts Rinehart believe in psychic phenomena? It is hard to tell from this book. She seems to take it quite seriously. If you are interested in her take on spiritualism and psychic phenomena, read Sight Unseen which she wrote in 1921.  It tells the story of the Neighborhood Club which conducted experiments in these type of things. It is available free at as are many other Rinehart books.

This book was first published in 1925. It is available from Amazon in a variety of formats.  I read the Dell Mapback edition (pictured above) number 131 in the series which was published in 1946. The front cover illustration is by Gerald Gregg. The map may be by Ruth Belew but I an not positively sure about this.