Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Stowmarket Mystery: Review

Now mark me, Winter. Just as the breed of the chicken is indelibly stamped on it in the eyes of a man skilled in chickens, so is the murder we are investigating marked by characteristics so plain that a child of ten, properly trained to use his eyes, might discern them.

The Stowmarket Mystery Or, a Legacy of Hate by Louis Tracy (1st published in England as A Fatal Legacy 1903) features Reginald Brett, barrister and hobby detective, working opposite (and then with) Inspector Winter. David Hume-Frazer was tried twice for the murder of his cousin, Alan, and though Winter was convinced that the police had found their man Hume's first trial resulted in a hung jury and he was acquitted in the second. Despite the lack of conviction, suspicion clings to him, and he wishes his name to be cleared before he marries his fiancé, Helen Layton. She also will not marry him, per her father's wishes, until the suspicion is gone nor will she abandon him for anyone else. And David's father, who stands next in line for the baronetcy, refuses to take the title until the cloud of suspicion is removed.

Hume comes to Brett and asks him to investigate on his behalf. The barrister had followed the trials closely and also believed the evidence pointed to Hume. During their brief interview Brett changes his mind about the young man's guilt and agrees to take up the case. It is a baffling one--Alan was killed with a special Japanese knife just beyond the library windows with, if his story is to be believed, David sleeping soundly inside. Killed, in fact, in the same place where four of his ancestors already died "where they stood in their boots."  Brett will have to dig into the family tree to find the motives and the real killer and several of our characters will have their lives threatened before he and Winter can bring the case to a successful conclusion.

This story is very much of the period, stereotypes abound--but there is plenty of action, lots of intrigue, and a cast of character that are interesting and engaging. The reader will be rooting for Hume's exoneration before the first chapter is complete. Reginald Brett is a detective very much in the Holmesian tradition. His quick observations and intellect make sense of clues that Winter either doesn't see or doesn't see the full meaning. But Brett is not as infallible as Holmes is generally
portrayed--he makes a few costly mistakes before the grand finale--allowing Winter to score a few points off him. Their relationship is more of a friendly competition than the adversarial relationship between Holmes and the police. 

A very entertaining mystery from the early twentieth century and one doesn't even mind that it breaks one of the Golden Age rules. We'll forgive Tracy--since he was writing well before Ronald Knox created his list of detective "no-nos." ★★  and a half.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

The intrigue and action entice me, but for some reason I just am still not sure it would be for me. It's just not grabbing me. Great review though.