Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor: Review

The Mystery of Burnleigh Manor (1930) by Walter Livingston is perhaps the basis for the plot of many a Scooby Doo cartoon episode. It features a Spooky Old House which none of the locals will go near for love or money. There are rumors of hauntings and footsteps in the walls and an evil  atmosphere that touches anyone who comes near. The only thing missing is the spectre who is really the local policeman in disguise. The last Lord Burnleigh to live within the manor--Lord Edward--had committed suicide in front of his younger brother Cecil on Christmas Eve. Lord Edward's wife and the youngest Burnleigh brother, Robert, had vanished and it was said that Lord Edward had killed them. The lord of the manor certainly appears haunted by something, if not remorse, just prior to shooting himself. And his faithful retainer, Hooper, claims to have seen the ghost of Robert on occasion. Cecil--now Lord Cecil--has the place boarded up, leaves the manor behind, and asks that his representatives check on the property now and again.

Years later, Lord Cecil receives word that the ghost is walking again. Or at least someone has been messing about the place. He determines to get to the bottom of the mystery even if it means taking the manor apart stone by stone. He travels to America to hire a level-headed architect with no connections whatsoever to the manor...or even to England...to come and refurbish the house. And, perhaps, discover what secrets it might hold. When they arrive at the manor, Burnleigh's man Lowry is in possession of the estate's lodge and Lowry's daughter shows every sign of nervous tension. It's also apparent that she would rather that Mr. Riker (the architect) would turn right around and head back to America and not set foot inside the manor. He can't figure out why she's taken such an intense dislike to him.

But it isn't long before strange things begin happening. Hooper is attacked--twice. An owl is hear hooting when no owls should be present in the area. The figure of a woman appears high on the manor's tower--when every entrance is still securely boarded up, and a man walks into a bush on the cliff and disappears. Once Riker enters the manor, he hears the footsteps within the walls and has items vanish from locked rooms. He's sure that Edith Lowry knows more than she's telling--but she seems to be in the grip of an unshakeable fear. He's also sure that it's no ghost playing tricks but a real human agent at work. But who is it and what are they seeking within the manor?

Before I give my take on this mystery, please know that I can't talk about one of the weaknesses without revealing a key point--I"m sure that anyone familiar with mysteries will have spotted it already, but I do want to give fair warning of possible spoilers ahead.

This is a fair mystery. I could see the plot working as a nice little 1930s or 1940s B movie plot--say something like The Ghost Breakers with Bob Hope or The Thirteenth Guest with Ginger Rogers. Lots of atmosphere and lots of spooky action in a gloomy old house. There's not a lot of doubt about who the "ghost" might be (although the possible identity is denied by one of the trusted sources). I certainly enjoyed the setting and Livingston gives us delightful characters to play about in the scene. My big quibble (and this is the spoiler such as it is) is after finding that Lord Cecil has hired an architect (who surely knows his way around edifices and spaces and figuring out dimensions and whatnot) and plopping a book with the the title Notes on the Detection of Hidden Spaces in his lap, the reader should reasonably expect that said architect would figure out from the get-go that there must be at least one secret passage in the manor some place. I mean, come on. I saw that coming as soon as Lord Cecil said there were weird things happening in the place that he wanted the architect to work on and the title of the book was mentioned. Ah ha, says I, There be secret passages here. But Riker goes about trying to figure out how on earth somebody, who he is sure is real and not a ghost, could possibly get into places that are all locked up. Gee, I wonder?

Overall, a fun and fairly solid read coming in at a middle-of-the road ★★. It would be interesting to find out if Livingston has any other mysteries I could get my hands on and see if he managed any stronger efforts.

This counts for the "Spooky House/Mansion" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card and it is also my second entry entry in the 1930 edition of Rich's Crimes of Century over at Past Offenses. If you have any 1930 crime fiction hanging out on your shelves, then come join us!


fredamans said...

You had me with Scooby-Doo... lol.. Those cartoon mysteries from the Scooby-Doo episodes were underrated I believe.

J F Norris said...

Geez, this one has juvenile mystery written all over it. I have all but two of the Mystery League books and this title is in my large collection. But I never bothered with this one primarily because the blurb on the jacket left a lot to be desired. Glad it provided you a bit of fun for a couple of days.

Bev Hankins said...

Freda: I loved the Scooby Doo mysteries (still do, truth be told).

John: Yes--other than the deaths, it does have more of a juvenile mystery feel to it. But it was fun.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

While there are weak points, vintage mystery is always fun. I'm going through a vintage phase right now with films and series, which has been enjoyable.

Unknown said...

Oh what fun! I really struggled with the flashbacks-and-timeline thing, but I think I have it figured out.

21 years prior to story: Robert runs off with Lady Burnleigh (Edward's wife). Cecil searches for him without success.

16 years prior to story: Edward dies by his own hand on Christmas Eve. The Manor passes to Cecil.

Present: Lord Cecil arrives with Riker to plan the Manor's restoration.

Also see blog post >> http://themysteryleague.blogspot.com/2017/09/5-mystery-of-burnleigh-manor-by-walter.html