Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Murder in the Hellfire Club: Review

I honestly don't know what to think of Donald Zochert's Murder in the Hellfire Club (1978) which features Benjamin Franklin as sleuth in London among the ribald fraternity of a club dedicated to lechery, lewdness, and lust. Franklin has traveled to England on business in 1757 and stops at the Vulture Tavern for a bit of refreshment. Members of the notorious Hellfire Club, founded by Francis Dashwood, are partying there as well and Franklin is made known to Dashwood.

When one of the unholy brotherhood dies in a locked room without a sign of violence on him, Dashwood comes to Franklin and asks him to look into the matter. With his knowledge of electricity, it doesn't take the American long to discover the secrets to the murder--the first known instance of murder by "electric fluid." Yes, the difficulty isn't in the how, but to find out who and why. Despite the fact that electricity is a such a new discovery, there are several members of the Club with enough knowledge to contrive the murderous device. But before Franklin can thoroughly investigate motives and means, two more of the Hellfire fraternity die through the use of Leyden jars and it looks as though someone intends to permanently disband the club. Even after Franklin discovers the identity of the killer, he is hard-pressed to find the evidence necessary to bring the crime home to him and stop the murderous rampage.

From what I know of the period (which, admittedly, is not a great deal), Zochert has the style of conversation and the mores of the time down pat. He seems to have researched the period quite well and has produced a very nice period piece. Where he falls down on the job, is in the actual murder mystery. There is no real flow to the plot and when it's all over I'm still not sure I understand why the murderer did it. Franklin claims to be explaining every thing, but I'm either a dunderhead or he isn't really. I know how it was done and Franklin tells me who--but I'm not compelled to believe that it absolutely must have been him because I don't understand the why of it.

 ★★ and a half for a decent historical piece--leaning more towards two because of the deficiencies in the mystery.

With all the bawdy partying going on, this fulfills the "Eat, Drink, & Be Merry" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card and gives me another Bingo.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

Not sure I would get into this one. Great review, as always.