Monday, September 14, 2015

The Albert Gate Mystery: Review

The Albert Gate Mystery (1904) brings a new case for the barrister detective Reginald Brett. This time it adds the spice of international intrigue and the thrill of adventure to horrific murder.  And what seems to be a trend in Louis Tracy's work is again in evidence -- two lovers cannot marry while the cloud of mystery hovers. And even though it isn't the girl's lover who is suspected, but her brother she still won't marry her fella until brother dear is cleared.

Yesterday Edith sends for me, cries for half an hour, tells me I'm the best fellow that ever lived, and then I'm jiggered if she didn't wind up by saying that she couldn't marry me.

Brett is called in after a Sultan's ransom in diamonds disappears and the Turkish officials associated with them are all murdered--in a locked room, in a house full to the rafters with British policemen and British officials who were tasked with protecting the gems. The Turkish Sultan had sent the imperial diamonds to London to be cut by experts in the safety of Albert Gate mansion, a fortress-like house which had served a British banker with a thing for security. The British government thought they had prepared for every possible point of attack and had assigned one of their best young Foreign Office men, Jack Talbot, to handle the operation.

All who arrive at Albert Gate must submit to a search--both before and after entering the apartments where the diamonds are kept. Policemen stand guard inside the house at every point of entry and in positions that keep the staircase in view at all times. On the fatal night, a group of men arrive to hold counsel with the Turkish representatives in charge of the diamonds. Talbot is sent for as well and after further discussion Talbot and one of the men leave the mansion. No one has brought a weapon with them and neither of them have the diamonds on them when they leave. And yet when the Turkish servant tries to rouse his masters and the other men the next morning he finds the door locked and no answer to his knocking. When the door is broken open, the men are all dead and the diamonds are gone. Since Talbot was one of the last people to leave the house and he can't be found at his rooms or the Foreign Office, suspicion immediately falls on him.  

Lord Fairholme is a long-time friend of Talbot and is also engaged to his sister. He is convinced that his friend is innocent and comes to Brett to ask for his help in clearing Talbot's name. The mystery starts in London, but it will take the men on a journey to France with a grand finale in Palermo, Italy.

I mentioned in my previous Tracy review (The Stowmarket Mystery) that Brett is a very Holmesian detective. It is even more apparent in this adventure. As before, his quick intelligence makes the most of clues and indications that his colleagues and the police seem to miss. He is astounded that his butler Smith needs an explanation for his most mundane deductions and Brett sounds very like a certain gentleman from Baker Street when he explains:

You knew that Lord Northallerton had recently invited me to his October pheasant-shooting. During the last few days a youth, who grotesquely reproduces Mrs. Smith's most prominent features, has mysteriously tenanted the kitchen, ill-cleaned my boots, and bungled over the studs in my shirts. This morning a letter came with the crest and the Northallerton postmark. Really, Smith, considering that you have now breathed the same air as myself for eight long years, I did not expect to be called on for an explanation.

But his Holmes-like attributes and skills don't stop there. Brett also manages the art of disguise quite as well as Holmes.

Suddenly the door of Brett's bedroom opened, and a decrepit elderly man appeared, a shabby-genteel individual, disfigured by drink and crumpled up by rheumatism.
"Who the devil——" began Fairholme.
But he was amazed to hear Brett's familiar voice...


...dressing himself in the height of fashion so far as his wardrobe would permit, and donning a fierce moustache and wig, which completely altered his appearance. He looked like a successful impressario or popular Italian tenor.

I certainly didn't expect a prominent barrister to carry around the accouterments for quick appearance changes all around Europe. It's fairly natural for Holmes to have a complete makeup kit at Baker Street--after all he's been working on being the best consulting detective all along. But when did a barrister pick up a bunch of disguises? But I have to admit...he's good at it.

Brett also seems to disdain sleep in the tradition of the Master:

He held out his hand to wish her good-night, but she demanded with some surprise, "What are you going to do? Surely you want some sleep?"
"I will remain here," he said. "I have bribed the hall-porter to keep awake, and I may be wanted on the telephone at any moment."
Who needs to catch up on sleep when there are miscreants to catch?

This is another fun early mystery in the Holmes tradition. More action and adventure than the previous novel and a good escape piece. ★★

Other quotes that grabbed my attention:

The Earl of Fairholme thought I might be of some service in the matter of your brother's strange disappearance, Miss Talbot. I am not a professional detective, but my friends are good enough to believe that I am very successful in unravelling mysteries that are beyond the ken of Scotland Yard. I have heard something of the facts in this present affair. Will you trust me so far as to tell me all that is known to you personally? 

What a fearful and wonderful thing is the English police system. A crime, obviously clever in its conception and treatment, can be handled by a sharp policeman wearing regulation boots and armed with handcuffs. Really, I must have a drink. 

Allowance had evidently not been made for the fact that Englishmen almost invariably write their names very badly in Continental hotel registers, owing to their inability to use foreign pens.  (now I'm wondering what was so odd about foreign pens at the turn of the century....) 

Fairholme: The whole business reads like a chapter out of one of Gaboriau's novels.
Brett: That is the way people live in Paris, my dear fellow. Life is an artificial matter here. But all this excitement has made me hungry. Let us have déjeûner."

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I don't know that this would be for me, but with it being so much like Holmes, my hubby might.
Great review!