Thursday, September 1, 2016
The House of the Arrow: Review
Boris Waberski, brother-in-law of the wealthy widow Mrs. Harlowe, is quite certain that he will be the heir when the ailing woman finally passes away. He's so certain that he sends a letter to her English solicitors pleading for an advance on his expectations. But Frobisher & Haslitt know that Monsieur Waberski is going to be disappointed when Mrs. Harlowe's will is read and ignore his request. Then when Mrs. Harlowe dies from what appears to be natural causes and it is revealed that she has left everything to her niece, Betty Harlowe Waberski doubles the amount of his demand and says that if his needs aren't met then there "will be an awkwardness." The lawyers once again ignore his demands, but prudently save the letters--and after Waberski accuses Betty of having murdered her aunt in order to inherit Jim Frobisher sets off for the estate in France, letters in hand, to prove what a lying scoundrel her accuser is.
But then the local authorities call in the great Inspector Hanaud who is convinced that a murder did take place even if the autopsy doesn't reveal any signs of foul play. There's always that untraceable arrow poison, you know. And Betty Harlowe's uncle just happened to have owned a perfect specimen of a poisoned arrow....that's suddenly gone missing. Frobisher is certain that Betty is innocent, but if she didn't do it, who did? Did Ann Upton, Betty's poor companion, do it to get hands on a priceless pearl necklace? Was it the nurse--whom it doesn't seem anybody has thought to suspect? Did Waberski himself manage to do the deed? Or maybe--as has been suggested--there's a gang at work? Hanaud may use unusual and mystifying methods, but he'll triumph in the end with a spectacular grand finale.
The House of the Arrow (1924) by A.E.W. Mason is the second novel featuring Inspector Hanaud. Haunad picks up clues like Holmes, has the ego of Poirot at his most self-assured moments, and yet can play the buffoon like Sir Henry Merrivale at his most comic. Frobisher winds up playing Watson--mostly in an effort to keep abreast of the suspicions focused on his client. One moment a clown and the next a stern upholder of the law, he keeps his suspects and his reluctant Watson off-balance throughout the novel. The detective is equal parts engaging and exasperating and manages to keep the clues as close to his chest as Holmes. Despite the suppressed clues, it isn't difficult to figure out who did it, but there is still plenty of mystery to go round. For instance, did the primary villain act alone or with an accomplice? How did s/he manage it all? Where are the missing pearls? Where is the missing arrow? And who keeps sends those nasty anonymous letters?
Looking back at my review of the first Hanaud novel, At the Villa Rose, it looks like Mason is very consistent--I gave that one ★★★ and a half as well. Both novels are fun, each have different strong points, and they both suffer from a long-winded and slightly convoluted wrap-up. But being fickle as I am I rounded that one down to three rather than up to four. I enjoyed this story and reacquainting myself with the good Inspector. I'm glad Mason pushed the reveal a little further along this time. In Rose, we knew the killer at the half-way mark and the remainder of the novel gave us the details of the crime in the words of one of the primary participants and Hanaud's explanation of how he managed to discern the truth. We still get a chapter or two of explanation in Arrow and the story would be stronger if some of the action were revealed as it happened rather than given in the wrap-up, but overall this is an enjoyable 1920s mystery with solid characters--particularly Hanaud, Frobisher, Betty and Ann.
With the yellow serum in the hypodermic (which appears more yellow on my copy) and the little yellow pills (which are actually white in the story), this fulfills the "Yellow Object" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.