Monday, May 28, 2018

Death at the Dog: Review

So.............I've been suffering from a huge case of review writer's block. Just can't seem to get in the right frame of mind to sit down and write these things up. And I really want to--because after all, that's the whole reason why I started this blog. To have an on-going journal of my reading. In an effort to catch up, the next several (many...A LOT) may be a little shorter than usual....

Death at the Dog (1940) by Joanna Cannan is set in the first few months of the Second World War. Small villages are trying to get used to the black outs--and some folks are having greater success than others at keeping the lights from showing in the darkness. Peter Conway and his sister Eve Hennisty who run the Loamshire's local pub, The Dog, have a bit of trouble on a fateful night in late 1939. Their lounge bar is full of familiar faces: Crescy Hardwick--unconventional novelist, old Mathew Scaife (the unpopular local squire), Edward Scaife--his son, Adam & Valentine Day, and David & Bridget Frankland. Crescy has already had an argument with the squire. He's her landlord and has sent her a letter turning her out of her cottage. She's none too pleased--especially given that she's invested quite a bit of time and money improving the place to suit her. Edward has also had words with his father over the running of the farm and it's evident that Mathew doesn't get on with either the Days or the Franklands. The elder Scaife takes his drink off to a corner seat and the group tries to make things festive around him. Then Scaife's younger son Mark walks in and the bar grows quiet--for Mark has never come to socialize with them at The Dog before.

Conversation resumes until Constable Waller comes in to tell Peter and Eve that they've got a light showing through the blackout curtains upstairs. Nearly everyone in the lounge bar troops outside to view the damage to the darkness. When it's determined that Eve's bedroom lamp is the culprit, they all come back in and play a bit of shove ha'penny until it's time to go. That's when Edward discovers that his father's dead. He believes it to be a heart attack--but when the doctor is called he refuses to give a death certificate and the next thing they know Inspector Guy Northeast is sent down from Scotland Yard to look into the poisoning of the squire.

Murder? he thought, and then it flashed across his mind that not one of the murder cases he had had to do with had been suitably set in sordid or horrific surroundings; it was an undercurrent, this desire to kill, a crawling thing, deep  down under placid waters...

Northeast finds that murder does run deep under the cozy atmosphere of the lounge bar. There are several motives--from inheritance to dislike to Crescy's desire to keep the place she's made into a home. There are several bits of evidence that seem to point towards the writer but Northeast is reluctant to believe that she is the murderer. Is the fact that he's a bit smitten with her clouding his judgment or has the murderer deliberately thrown the cloud of suspicion over Crescy?

He had great faith in putting things down on paper. You could turn things over in your mind for ever, but there was nothing like analysis for catching out sentiment and the preferences you couldn't help forming.

The Scotland Yard inspector diligently tries to keep his facts in order--willing to face them and arrest the novelist if he must. But first he has to figure out just how the murder was done. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this look at village life during the early years of World War II. Cannan gives us a good, well-drawn cast of characters and Crescy is especially interesting as the prickly writer who manages to attract men without really wanting anything to do with them. I also was intrigued by the similarities to a Ngaio Marsh book published in the same year--though the solution is definitely distinct. Overall, a good introduction (for me) to the work of Cannan.  ★★★★

[Finished on 5/4/18]


Kate said...

Glad you enjoyed this one too and definitely agree with the Marsh comparison. It's weird how they both latched onto the same idea and then wrote books around the same time involving them.

Carol said...

Sounds like a good one. I don't tend to read books set in war time, but this one sounds like the War makes an interesting background without taking over the story.