Saturday, October 25, 2014

Roast Eggs: Review

Roast Eggs (1981) is the 14th book in the Masters and Green detective series by Douglas Clark. It offers up a double-twist in its set-up: a twist on the inverted mystery combined with a twist on the police procedural. Per the usual inverted mystery scenario, we know up-front whom the police consider the guilty party. James Connal has been charged with setting up some kind of timed device to burn his house down and murder his wife. The prosecuting counsel has what looks like an easy, open-and-shut case and, after Clark gives us the background and events leading up to scene in court, we find ourselves ready for the closing moments of the trial.

The prosecution has presented its evidence and examined all its witnesses. The defense has done the same and it looks pretty black for Connal. But then he takes the stand in his own defense and Sir Francis March, appearing for the Crown, can see his case going up in smoke as the charming, deprecating villain begins to sway the jury. A weekend recess is called just before Sir Francis's opportunity to cross-examine Connal (timing for which he is incredibly grateful) and he and Detective Hill have a little pow-wow to see what they might do to prevent a particularly callous and diabolical murderer from walking out of court a free man.

The solution? Call upon Sir Francis's friend and Hill's former boss, Chief Superintendent George Masters, to look over their case and read the court transcripts to see if there is anything they missed and any way (legally) to save the prosecution in the upcoming cross-examination. Masters brings along Detective Chief Inspector Bill Green and the four men settle down for a weekend of intense work.

For me to be asked to investigate a case after the criminal has been arrested and charged is an oddity. And that, I claim, allows me to use odd--unusual, if you like--methods. We're all out of our depth because we're doing a job arse-about-face and so, where we would normally get facts and then make deductions, I now have to make deductions and hope that as a result I get facts. (Masters)

The situation, as Masters notes, is an odd one. He takes Sir Francis's and Hill's estimation of Connal's guilt as his only starting "fact" and begins what Hill calls a guessing game--producing hypothesis after hypothesis until he begins to unearth Connal's fiendishly clever plan. A plan that called for him to tried for the murder...and acquitted. Masters and Green manage to unearth evidence to support their suspicion of this plan--but it will take a show-stopping bit of courtroom drama (and a hopefully sympathetic judge) to allow that evidence to come before a jury. Will they be able to pull off a miracle when court resumes?

Generally speaking, I'm not a big fan of inverted crime novels. I prefer to work alongside the detective and see if I can figure out whodunnit and how before the sleuth reveals all. But Clark managed to reel me in with his twist--it was great fun watching Masters and Green come in to the case cold and try to unravel it before the weekend was out. Adding the "beat the clock" motif really spiced up what could have been (for me, anyway) a rather bland inverted mystery. And Sir Francis's bit of courtroom dramatics (turning the courtroom into a "three-ring circus" as Judge Cleghorn puts it) was worth the price of admission all by itself. They wanted to shake Connal out of his self-satisfied, calm assurance of "Not Guilty" and Sir Francis's presentation surely does the trick. But how they find the evidence and how they shake him in court is what really makes this a satisfying read.   ★★★ and 3/4 stars for the clever twists on mystery standards.

With "Eggs" in the title this fulfills the "Cooks/Food" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo Card.


fredamans said...

I've never heard of this author or this series and its the 14th in?! Wow!
I feel behind in my reading... lol
Great review!

Gram said...

I love this series and have most of them

Peggy Ann said...

Sounds delicious! I'll keep my eyes opened for this author