Saturday, August 17, 2019

Murder in the Maze: Review

Murder in the Maze (1927) by J. J. Connington 

Roger and Neville Shandon are twins at birth...and at death. The men often took themselves to the twin centers of the lovely hedge maze in the grounds of Roger's estate Whistlefield. There they would seek peace and quiet away from their shiftless brother Ernest, the endless piano-playing of their young nephew Arthur Hawkhurst, and the various house guests that Arthur's sister Sylvia often invited. This time they went and found their eternal rest. 

When Sylvia's friends Vera Forrest and Howard Torrence decide to give the maze a try, Howard suggests they each race to a separate center. The winner to earn a tin of cocoa. But what they find in the center isn't the sweet feeling of victory--they each find a Shandon twin dead apparently from an air gun dart. But how could an air gun dart be so murderous? Quite easily when dosed with curare as Sir Clinton Driffield (Chief Constable) discovers when he arrives on the scene to investigate and hands the darts over to the (very convenient) local expert on rare poisons.

The primary mystery Sir Clinton and his Watson-like friend Squire Wendover must solve is why were both men killed? Roger Shandon was a cracking good barrister who just happened to be neck-deep in a prosecution of a very tricky case. The sharp examination by Roger will most likely send a crook to the criminal courts...a lesser man might not pull it off. And a man connected with the Hackleton case just happens to be in the neighborhood when the Shandons are killed. Was Neville mistaken for Roger and then when the murderer discovered that he'd killed the wrong man he polished off Roger afterward? Or was there a reason why both men needed to die? When three more attacks occur it begins to look like someone has it in for the entire family. Will Sir Clinton solve the mystery before all the Shandons and Hawkhursts are wiped out?

Curare and twins and hedge mazes and even air guns (flavor of Sherlock Holmes there) may be old hat by 2019, but I'm sure that mystery readers of the 1920s were probably much more surprised by these plot devices. And Connington uses them to good effect. Especially the hedge maze. The initial scenes where the bodies are discovered are very atmospheric and almost claustrophobic. The reader definitely shares the feeling of being trapped...and possibly hunted by the murderer...with Vera Forrest.

The story is also a good example of the fair play mystery of the Golden Age. Clues are displayed for the observant reader to find and it is definitely possible to divine the solution to the how, who, and why. This is the fourth Connington book that I've read and so far I've enjoyed them all. I particularly liked Sir Clinton and his interactions with Wendover--the good Squire comes up with some quite good solutions of his own (erroneous...but still) and Sir Clinton is surprised at how good they are and even seems a bit chagrined to have to tell his friend that he's not quite right. It was quite nice to have a Watson who was fairly clever himself. ★★

Wendover's appearance had earned him the kindly nickname [Squire] which the Chief Constable used. He was one of those red-faced hearty country gentlemen who, on first acquaintance, give an entirely erroneous impression of themselves. Met casually, he might quite easily have appeared to be a slightly fussy person of very limited intellect and even more restricted interests; but behind that facade lived a fairly actue brain which took a certain sly delight in exaggerating the misleading mannerisms. Wendover was anything but a fool, though he liked to pose as one. [p. 85)

What's wrong with your outlook on the business, Squire, is that you want to treat a real crime as if it were a bit clipped out of a detective novel. In a 'tec yarn, you get everything nicely sifted for you. The author puts down only things that are relevant to the story. If he didn't select his materials, his book would be far too long and no one would have the patience to plough through it. The result is that the important clues are thrown up as if they had a spotlight on them, if the reader happens to have any intelligence. (Sir Clinton Driffield; p. 109)

In real life...You get a mass of stuff thrown at your head in the way of evidence; and in the end nine-tenths of it usually turns out to be completely irrelevant. You've got to sift the grain from the chaff yourself, with no author do the rough work for you. (Ibid.)

I've no fault to find with your reasoning. It hangs together beautifully. But sometimes the human mind, if you follow me, is apt to assume connections where no such things exist in Nature. We've got an instinctive craving to trace associations between sets of phenomena--and at times we kid ourselves that there is some relationship when its only a case of simultaneity. (Sir Clinton; p. 150)

SW: Nothing's happened...
SC: Since the last time? No, it's a rather curious point which you may have noticed, Squire. Nothing ever does happen between the last time and the next time. That I should say was an almost invariable rule in life. (Squire Wendover, Sir Clinton; p. 156)

Finished 8/10/19
Gold Just the Facts: Character with similar job
Calendar of Crime: October (costume/disguise/mistaken identity)
Deaths = Two (poisoned)


Kate said...

Not experienced much of Connington's work, never very easy to get a hold of for a reasonable price. But your review makes me think I should try a little harder to give him another go. Death in a maze sounds like a good crime setup to me.

Bev Hankins said...

Well, I've enjoyed all I've found so far. He hasn't been particularly easy for me to find either....Hope you can get hold of some more.