Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Double Cross Purposes: Review

Double Cross Purposes (1937) was written by Ronald A. Knox, an English priest, respected theologian. Monsignor Knox in his religious capacity served as chaplain to Oxford--providing suitable Catholic lectures when C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien trod the hallowed halls--as well as translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English using Hebrew and Greek sources. But in his spare time, he was a founding member of the Detection Club, penned the Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction, and authored six detective novels--five of which feature Miles Bredon. Bredon is an investigator who is often called upon by the Indescribable Insurance company to investigate suspicious circumstances connected with their insurance policies. Double Cross Purposes is the last of these novels.

This time Bredon is called to duty when the Indescribable provides a policy against fraud for would-be treasure hunter, the Honoroable Vernon Lethaby. Lethaby is the younger son of nobility and well-known for as a notorious, man-about-town. He will do anything for a lark or just to help a journalistic pal with a story sure to make a splash. And, being always short on cash, when an opportunity to do something outrageous with the possibility of profit comes along, there's no holding him back.

Lethaby spent his tender years in Scotland and remembers a rather treasure-mappish sort of sketch lurking somewhere on the walls of Dream Castle set amongst the burns and glens of the land along the river Dounie. There were also rumors that Bonnie Prince Charlie left some of his valuables hidden about the area and putting two and two together Lethaby dreams of making four times as much cash as he might need. Speaking of "need"--he needs someone to do the heavy lifting and spadework so he throws in his lot with a dubious man of travels and experience, one "Digger" Henderson so named because he's quite the digging prodigy. But, being the cautious sort, Lethaby takes out a policy with the Indescribable to cover him for fraud if his new friend happens to run off with all  the doings.

So...having struck a deal with the current "king" of Dream Castle to go in halfsies on any treasure found, Lethaby and Henderson make plans to hunt on an island in the river Dounie. Meanwhile, the Indescribable sends Bredon, along with his wife Angela and friend, Mr. Poultney as cover, to keep an eye on the two treasure hunters and make sure there is no funny business that will defraud the company. Mr. Poultney is an elderly schoolmaster who shall use salmon fishing as a cover to keep watch on the other side of the island.

To everyone's surprise, the two men actually do strike gold--well, treasure of a sort, anyway. But then a fire, a murder, a treasure that disappeared after it should have, a drugged treasure hunter (no, I'm not going to tell you who), a ghostly, coffin-laden boat, mysterious lights, and a few midnight swims later Bredon is still trying to figure out if fraud has been (or is going to be) done, who died, who disappeared, and if anybody is crossing or double-crossing anybody else.

This is a quite lovely Golden Age Detective story--in every sense of the word. It was written between the wars, it's fairly clued, and it has a nifty, intricate puzzle plot. What more could a GAD-lover want? It has disguises and maps and suspicious chauffeurs. It has a curse on the treasure and a missing key. There is minister who seems a tad too interested in the treasure hunt and policemen who don't seem interested enough in dead bodies. The banter between Bredon and his wife is witty and I enjoyed their good-natured teasing of their schoolmaster friend. Poultney is every inch the pedant (who will tell you the origins of any word or phrase at the drop of a hat), but he is also an over-grown school boy just dying to play at sleuth hound with big kids. He is utterly delightful when he discovers a major clue and springs it upon Bredon. I had a great deal of fun with this one even though I guessed part (but not all!) of the solution. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Involves Clergy/Religion" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card--both because it was written by a Catholic priest and because of the minister who keeps popping in and out of the story.


fredamans said...

You had me with a priest writing a mystery.... lol...
Great review!

Anonymous said...

I have no idea when I last read Know but it was probably in the 1980s! Glad to hear thius is a good one - thanks Bev, always happy to renew an acquaintance!

Unknown said...

I am going to go back and start with the first. Thanks for the review, Bev!