Sunday, May 29, 2011

Vintage Mystery Sunday: Death Under Sail

It's Vintage Mystery Sunday and time to step into my vault of classic mysteries and choose one to feature that I read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read. This week the spotlight is falling on Death Under Sail by C. P. Snow.

It is funny how one book leads to another. In Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter mentions a book where a scientist fakes data to try and cover up mistakes that have been found in his experiments and a discussion ensues about academic integrity and what sacrifices should be made in its name. This reference is to the plot line which runs through The Search by C. P. Snow and a little research on Snow led me to discover that in addition to this book and the series for which he is so well-known (collectively known as Strangers and Brothers) he had written two detective novels, Death Under Sail and A Coat of Varnish. I immediately added them to by TBF list (To Be Found)....this was no easy task. It was over twenty years between my first reading of Gaudy Night and the Red Cross Book Sale where I found Death Under Sail. But in my opinion, it was well worth the wait.

The plot of Death Under Sail seems very simple. A small party of friends--five men and two women--plan to spend two weeks sailing on a small boat. Even though they are friends, the boat is small enough that there is danger that they might get on each others nerves. It winds up that this is not the only danger--for before the close quarters have a chance to work on their temperaments, their host, Roger Mills, is murdered while steering the boat--discovered with a bullet through the heart and a jovial smile on his face. How was this possible? And how could it have happened in such a small, restricted space? Mills had many enemies, but he had no thought that one of them would be among his guests. Who among this decent, educated, and charming group of people had a motive for such violence? The boat is brought to land and two detectives soon enter the scene--the suave civil servant and amateur detective Finbow and his counter-part Detective-Sergeant Aloysius Birrell. What follows is a delightful investigation of "civilized" murder.

Written in 1932, Death Under Sail is another fine example of the witty and genteel Golden Age mystery. We have the closed setting (small boat in the middle of a waterway), limited suspects, the refined and gentlemanly amateur detective, and the policeman who needs the amateur to show him the way. Finbow is a delight all by himself. I am, in addition to being a vintage mystery addict, a collector of quotations. I have several pages devoted to Finbow's bon mots--clever little bits on everything from detection itself to human nature. Finbow's thoughts on human nature stem from his interest in psychology and it is psychology that he uses to solve the mystery. I wish I had read this after I had begun blogging--I would love to have a thorough review of it.

1 comment:

wutheringwillow said...

One book does lead to another. I get great recommendations more often from books than from people. For me books have provided quite accurate recommendations and have lead me to more books. For instance, I got to know of the play, A Kiss for Cinderella by J. M. Barrie, from an Agatha Christie short story called Greenshaw's Folly. I read Ben Johnson’s Every Man in His Humour because I read an excerpt of it in Thomas Love Peacock’s Nightmare Abbey. And I found out about Nightmare Abbey from the book The Tale of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance. Quite a chain of recommendations!

I have seen Time of Hope by C.P. Snow from the Strangers and Brothers series lying around at my parent's home. I haven't read it yet but I am curious about it.

I didn't know Snow had written detective stories. Thank you for the information!