Friday, May 8, 2015

The Eye in the Museum: Review

In The Eye in the Museum by J. J. Connington (pen name of Alfred Walter Stewart), the terms of her father's will ties Joyce Hazelmere to her odious, whiskey-swilling, gambling Aunt Evelyn until she turns 25. If she doesn't stay with the old battle-axe or leave with her blessing, then all the money reverts to Evelyn. It's not bad enough that Evelyn treats her horribly--spewing abuse every time she has a whiskey or two too many--but the older woman is also terribly jealous of her lovely young niece and is determined to stand in the way of young love when Evelyn meets the handsome Leslie Seaforth and wants to marry him. After a particularly acrimonious exchange with her aunt, Joyce tells Leslie that all their problems would be solved if only an accident would happen to Evelyn. After all, her aunt has a bit of heart trouble and it's just possible that a bit of excitement might bring on a particularly deadly attack.

You're a lawyer, Leslie. What would happen...suppose I lost my temper and struck back, and she...well, if her heart failed under the strain? They couldn't do anything to me, could they? It would just be an accident, wouldn't it?

And,then, as if her words had some sort of magic power, it seems like that very thing happens. That evening Joyce and Leslie go for a night-time canoe ride and when Joyce returns home she finds her aunt dead in the drawing-room. She calls out to Leslie (who's down by the canoe) who comes to help. There is no sign of violence or disturbance so it would seem that Joyce's wish for freedom has come true. All that remains is to call in Evelyn's doctor, get him to sign the death certificate, and all will be lovely in the garden....

Except Dr. Platt won't sign. He doesn't like the "atmosphere" between the two young people and he insists that although Evelyn's heart wasn't strong there wasn't any reason for her to die suddenly. By the time the postmortem results are in and the inquest is done there are hints of attempted poisoning, a definite death by pressure on the vagus nerve and carotid artery (a lovely method that required medical know-how or special training), and a verdict of "murder by person or persons unknown."

Superintendent Ross is called in to sort out the suspects and hunt for clues. He has to follow a trail strewn with forgery, gambling debts, digitalis, mysterious comings and goings in the dead woman's garden, stories of grudges past and jealousies present, and a view through an all-seeing eye. The harassed niece and her fiance aren't the only suspects. There are several to choose from--from the dead woman's estranged husband who wanted a divorce to marry his lady-love (Evelyn naturally couldn't possibly allow that) to Dr. Hyndford who wasn't Evelyn's doctor but may have had a different sort of bed-side manner to Watchet, Aunt Evelyn's estate agent who may have been cooking the books. Ross will get his villain in the end--after an adventurous chase down the river--and, as in all good vintage mysteries, all the clues will be displayed and the good detective's reasoning will be revealed in a final wrap-up scene.

Connington provides a very nice English countryside murder that is fairly-clued and complete with a red herring or two. Engaging characters--particularly Ross and a lawyer's clerk who turns out to be something of an expert in graphology--and the adventurous ending all make for an interesting reading experience. Quite enjoyable-- ★★ and a half.

With Superintendent Ross investigating, this counts for the "Professional Detective" Square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card. This is also my first entry in the Super Book Password "Movie Title" category...the clue is "Museum."


Anonymous said...

Another one of those authors from the Golden Age I have to sample - thanks Bev, sound like I've been missing out!

fredamans said...

Sounds like a solid mystery. Great review!

Carol said...

I love vintage mysteries, but haven't read anything by this author. Sounds like a good one.