Sunday, April 3, 2011

Vintage Mystery Sunday: Too Many Cousins

Since one of the great loves of my reading life happens to be Vintage Mysteries, I decided to find a way to feature them beyond the Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge which I am sponsoring (see sidebar) and the frequent reviews of my current reads. Here on Vintage Mystery Sunday I plan to revisit classic mysteries that I have read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read.

This week the spotlight is on Douglas G. Browne's Too Many Cousins (1946). The story takes place in England, toward the close of World War II. Six cousins, all descendants of the wealthy Victorian merchant Rutland Shearsby, have all survived one of the worst wars in history. But then suddenly, life takes an unhealthy turn. The first cousin to go is an army captain in London who abruptly steps into the path of a speeding van. A few months later, a second cousin who is a writer is found in remote country lane with his head smashed against a stone wall. A few days after that a third cousin, a schoolteacher is found poisoned in her cottage. Now only three of the original six remain.

Is this only a bizarre coincidence of accidents? Or is there something more sinister going on? Douglas Browne introduces us to Parmiter, an eccentric obituarist who has more than the usual facts about the deaths--some quite disturbing. Parmiter becomes alarmed enough to try and convince Harvey Tuke, a well-known public prosecutor, to get to the bottom of the dwindling numbers in this one family. Tuke is skeptical until a fourth Shearsby cousin comes to him convinced that someone is trying to kill her.

This is an extraordinary mystery with a maze of curious facts regarding this very odd family. Tukes uncovers a bitter conflict over an unconventional legacy, a very Victorian skeleton the closet, a short story title "Too Many Cousins" that supposedly predicted the family's troubles, and Uncle Martin, the proverbial family black sheep, who refuses to play dead.

The mystery is full of suspense and surprises. I originally read it as a loan from the local library, but I enjoyed it so much I immediately put it on my TBO list (To Be Owned) and can now say that I am the proud owner of the Dover paperback edition. I'm still on the look-out for a hardback copy. Browne was noted historian of his day and quite the master of British wit. In this book he gives the reader a fascinating look at bomb-shattered London and the effects of the war and profound social change on an England in transition. This is a very charming and challenging detective story that will keep the reader guessing until the last page.


J F Norris said...

I have this book along with a small pile of other Dover reprints of classic detective novels. I've only managed to read a few of the Thinking Machine stories from that pile of Dover books. This review makes for an enticing push to knock this one off my list.

BTW - I have read my last mystery in your challenge. And it was a very strange one. Review to be posted later tonight.

neer said...

This seems really interesting.