Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Checkmate to Murder: Review

It's the early 1940s. London. A fog-shrouded night with windows draped in black-out curtains or painted over to meet the black-out standards. In Bruce Manaton's barn-like studio, the hush of the fog seems to seep in and focus the concentration of the oddly-assorted group gathered for the evening. Bruce, a talented but as of yet unsuccessful artist, is fully focused on his latest painting--a portrait of a man in the scarlet robes of a Cardinal. The model for this work is Andre Delaunier, an equally talented and unsuccessful actor, who holds his pose with the import of Shakespearean drama. At the other end of the room, Robert Cavenish, a thoroughly respectable Home Office man, and Ian MacKellon, a brilliant chemist somehow connected with the war effort, are thoroughly engrossed in a game of chess. Moving in and out from the kitchen just beyond, Rosanne Manaton, the artist's sister, prepares dinner and runs her own artistic eye over the tableau. Outside, muffled by the fog are various warning signals and other noises. Among them a shot?

For next door, the Manatons' miserly landlord, Albert Folliner, is shot to death in his sitting/bedroom and apparently robbed of his miser's stash. The Special Constable who has been on his nightly rounds comes bursting into the Manatons' lodging dragging a young Canadian soldier as prisoner. The soldier is Neil Folliner, the nephew of the slain man, and the Special Constable swears he has caught the man red-handed. But Scotland Yard sends Inspector Macdonald to take over the case and when he has finished taking statements, examining the premises--both the studio and the landlord's rooms, and following up the clues that escaped the constable's nervous eyes, he finds that all may not be as straight forward as it seems. For instance--if the constable came upon Neil Folliner after the crime was committed, why have the former's footprints been overlaid by the latter's? And what happened to the loot? And is Mrs. Tubbs really just the jolly cockney charwoman that she seems to be? And what about those previous tenants of the studio?

As I told John from Pretty Sinister Books (who tried to warn me away from this one), I must have a thing for Lorac's fog-shrouded, black-out-centered mysteries, because I thoroughly enjoyed her Checkmate to Murder (1944). Inspector MacDonald is a very thorough yet very human policeman. He is never quick to judge and he has a way of seeing everything--even the things the witnesses and suspects think they've hidden properly. The mystery is fairly clued--maybe too fairly, because I figured this one out. Not absolutely every little detail, but enough that I'm calling it a win for Inspector Bev. 

But figuring out the solution fairly early didn't detract from my enjoyment. The characters are well-drawn and Mrs.Tubbs, Folliner's charwoman; Mrs. Stanton, whose garden backs up against the "murder house' and studio; Mrs. Blossum, the owner of the Green Dragon pub; and Bert Brewer, a rheumatic gardener all add a good bit of local period color to the proceedings. ★★★★ for a highly enjoyable wartime mystery.

This counts for the "Artist/Art Equipment" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card as well as my second entry in the 1944 edition of Rich's Crimesof Century over at Past Offenses. If you have any 1944 crime fiction hanging out on your shelves, then come join us!


J F Norris said...

Well, I found it ponderous. It took me a long time to read this one and I wasn't all that invested in any of the characters. It all seemed very familiar to me. I've read other mysteries involving artists and egomaniacal creative types and found them much more engaging. Something about this was off putting. The lead female character Roseanne was sort of a drip as I remember. Maybe I was just in a foul mood when I read it.

Bev Hankins said...

John--I've definitely been there (where my mood probably affected my reading). But, it's also just a matter of taste. We're not all going to agree on absolutely everything all of the time...and that's a good thing. :-)

fredamans said...

At least over-sharing on the clues didn't kill it for you, that's a good thing.