Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Rope's End, Rogue's End: Review
In Rope's End, Rogue's End (1942) by E. C. R. Lorac we have the stand-by of British detective fiction...the English manor house. Wulfstane manor, a rambling old country house with many unused rooms, winding staircases, and a maze of cellars, had been bequeathed to Veronica Mallowood and her twin brother Martin. The last time the family of Mallowoods had gathered under the ancestral roof was on the occasion of their father's funeral, and there had been one of those unholy rows which not infrequently follow the reading of the will. Now, elder brother Paul has stopped by the family home on his way out of the country on a prolonged and long-deserved holiday. He wants to try one more time to get Veronica and Martin "to see sense" and allow him to provide the necessary funds to keep Mallowood in the style to which it should be accustomed. His sister and brother would rather live poor and let the place fall down around them than to be beholden to the brother who made their lives a misery when growing up. Added to the mix we have brothers Basil and Richard--and it seems that none of the Mallowoods like any of the others. Basil, like Paul, is a man of business in town--reputed to have done well. Richard has always been a traveler and never stayed in one place for long.
The unexpected family reunion takes place with fewer arguments than anticipated and the next morning Paul sets off on his journey. That's when things get interesting. Basil receives mail that seems to be of the upsetting sort. Next thing we know a shot is heard, the locked door to the old playroom is broken down and there sits Basil (or rather what's left of him)--an apparent victim of suicide. Everything looks cut and dried to Inspector Long who has shown up on the scene intending to serve Basil for a warrant for embezzlement and who winds up with a corpse on his hands. Basil knew things were getting hot, the messages from town probably told him so (the remains are mere ashes in the fireplace), and he took the easy way out. But there are little odds and ends that just don't sit right with Inspector Long.
Enter Inspector Robert MacDonald from Scotland Yard. He, too, finds certain pieces of the puzzle not quite fitting and goes on to find that both Basil and his brother Paul have left their personal and business affairs in a much too tidy fashion. No fingerprints anywhere in either man's home. No personal papers lying about. Everything boxed up and shipped off to some mysterious safe deposit box. Why have these men cleaned up so faithfully behind them? Particularly Paul--about whom there isn't the least whiff of scandal? And then there's brother Martin who has disappeared since just before the suicide and hasn't shown up since. Where is he and why isn't his sister Veronica more concerned?
Inspector MacDonald follows the clues through the literal maze of the house and the theoretical maze of identity, double-lives, and financial woes to the startling conclusion. A very interesting example of a mystery from the forties. I picked up on one of the vital clues...but I had absolutely no idea what to do with it. Lorac had me baffled to the end. I always like that in a good mystery. Four stars.