Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Middle Temple Murder: Review

Frank Spargo is a young journalist who has just finished his shift as dawn breaks across London and plans to make his way home for breakfast and a good, long sleep. As he passes Middle Temple Lane, home to various barristers and the like, he notices Driscoll, a policeman of his acquaintance, looking about him and signalling to another policeman nearby. Sensing a possible story he approaches Driscoll to find out what's up.

A porter has found the body of an elderly man on the steps leading to one of the chambers in the Middle Temple. Spargo hooks up with Detective Sergeant Rathbury who arrives to take charge of the case and they soon find that there is nothing at all on the man to identify him.The only lead is a piece of paper that had slipped into the lining of a pocket and which has the name and address of a young barrister, Ronald Breton. Spargo has recently made the barrister's acquaintance through a newspaper article. Breton, when questioned, claims no knowledge of the man but he becomes interested in the case and he, Spargo, and Rathbury work--sometimes in tandem and sometimes along separate lines--towards the solution.

I first read The Middle Temple Murder (1919) by J. S. Fletcher over twenty-five years ago (back before I did any sort of review on what I read) and when the library finally purged its copy and put it up for sale in its Friends of the Library Used Bookstore I snatched it up so I could own it and read it again. Fortunately, from the mystery-puzzle stand-point, I had very little memory of the story and was able to enjoy myself without knowing the solution beforehand. Fletcher provides us with a very nice early detective novel. His policeman is neither antagonistic towards the amateur detective work of Spargo nor is Rathbury incompetent (as so many fictional policemen are portrayed). Each of the men follow up the clues they find and pool their knowledge. If anyone keeps information up their sleeves, it's Spargo--all in the effort to get a big scoop.

This is a fast-moving story which follows our investigators from one adventure to the next, from one witness to another. There are several features that would become standard in mystery stories--mysterious man from the past killed for unknown reasons, wealthy man of business with mysterious background, the missing child--but here, because it is such an early example, they seem fresh. The main disappointment I have with the book is the denouement. The reveal of the culprit at the end comes much too quickly and with too little explanation. One can just see the motive for the murder, but Fletcher gives the wrap-up very little effort. It's as if he said--"Well, X did it. That's all you need to know." Other than the ending, this is a fine example of an early mystery story and, from what I read on the internet, one of Fletcher's better efforts.  ★★ (I gave it five stars previously.)

This fulfills the "Hand Holding Weapon" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.


Jean said...

Hey, I read this just a few months ago on a plane! :)

fredamans said...

LOL Sounds like the author got bored with his own story, in a sense, to put the wrap-up so abrupt.