Thursday, February 6, 2020

Information Received: "Mr. X in the Billiard Room with the Revolver"

...when you have got the truth, everything fits. I think that's the main test of truth. It fits, it makes a harmony, one pattern all through. (Bobby Owen; p. 241)
Information Received (1933) by E. R. Punshon

Constable Bobby Owen is three years in the force and getting a bit bored with the routine duties of walking a beat. But all that is about to change as he waits about on a Hampstead street for his sergeant to meet up with him. In quick succession, the butler of "the Cedars," the imposing home of Sir Christopher Clarke, comes out and tells him to watch out for elderly, grey-whiskered man with a grudge against Clarke; a sandy-bearded gent comes along and evinces great interest in the Cedars; a ruckus erupts in the neighboring yard when a young man goes running through (initially thought to be an apple thief); and then a man comes out of the French window at Sir Christopher's house and cries "Murder!"

Owens enters the billiard room and finds that Sir Christopher himself has been shot twice in the chest...and the weapon is nowhere to be found. At the other end of the house, Sir Christopher's safe is found wide open and a bundle of easily-negotiated securities and a cache of diamonds is missing. Are the two things related? It seems unreasonable that the thief would have come all the way through the house to try and escape after the robbery, run into Sir Christopher, and decided to shoot him? But, then, is it reasonable to think that a robbery and a murder just happened to occur at practically the same time in the same house? To further complicate the case, the securities that are missing had just come home with Sir Christopher that day. They were the bulk of a trust fund that Clarke was a trustee for...and his lawyers had held the funds. It seems that there may have been some hanky-panky going on with the accounts and rumors of fraud are running amok. Perhaps Clarke was killed to prevent the fraud from being discovered? And who has been sending Sir Christopher tickets to the latest revival of Shakespeare's Hamlet (three sets of tickets over several days)? And why did the sight of them make Clarke so afraid?

Owens secures the scene of the murder and reports to his superiors and soon Superintendent Mitchell from Scotland Yard is on the case. He takes a shine to the young constable and the two begin gathering information about Sir Christopher's relations--Jennie and Brenda, his daughter and step-daughter, respectively, and their young men: Peter Carsley, who not only is a partner in the law firm in question but who is also secretly married to Jennie (quite against her father's wishes--thus the secret), and Mark Lester, who is Brenda's approved suitor. They also take an interest in various others, like Basil Marsden, the other partner in the law firm, who initially admits to Carsley that there has been a bit of fraud going on but then denies it categorically after the murder. There's Doctor Gregory, Clarke's doctor, who had "just happened" to stop by the Cedars on the night of the murder and discovered the body. Not to mention the two mysterious gentlemen who had been loitering in the neighborhood as well. Oh...and what became of Mr. Belfort, the man to whom Clarke was going to turn over the trust securities that very night? 

After a great deal of dogged footwork on the part of Owens (some sanctioned and some not--though Mitchell appreciates a man with initiative) and Mitchell looking into all the things he declares "will bear some looking into," the two men solve half the puzzle. But it isn't until the right Information has been Received that all the pieces fall into place. 

This was the first E. R. Punshon novel I've ever read and an excellent debut novel for Bobby Owens. Punshon tells a right good story and he put things over on me good and proper. I was absolutely certain that I knew who the culprit was as soon as they walked on scene for a goodish bit. I was sortof right, but Punshon takes the story and gives it a good shake and it wound up that I had the right answer to the wrong question. If only I had picked up on that one clue that was staring me in the face throughout the entire book.

I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Owen and Mitchell. The Superintendent takes the younger man under his wing--without him really knowing it. He wants to test him to see if he's got the stuff good detectives are made of, but Bobby is never sure if the test is working out until the very end. It's interesting to watch the young detective tentatively stand up for his ideas but never sure if he's being well-received. At one point he's given 24-hours leave--reportedly for the hard work of the previous few days, but he's not sure it isn't to get him out of the super's hair. But his detective's instincts drive him to go check into things on his own and he's surprised to find that Mitchell expected him to all along. And Mitchell's pleased about it though he tries to cover it under his sardonic humor.

Overall, an excellent beginning to the I just need to get my hands on the next one.  ★★
Vintage Mystery Gold: Rule #6 (Unmotivated Confession)
Deaths =  4 (three shot; one poisoned)
Calendar of Crime: June (Author DOB)

First line: Since the formidable personage, Sir Christopher Clarke, square built, square jawed, iron of fist and will, with fierce little eyes that gleamed from under bushy brows as though they sought whom they might devour next, was by far the most important and influential client of Messrs Marsden, Carsley, and Marsden, Lincoln's Inn, the well-known and long-established firm of solicitors, it is perhaps no matter for surprise that a certain nervousness, or even more than that, was apparent in the senior partner of the firm as he rose to greet him.

Remember it another time, that is if you are one who can learn from your mistakes. It's rare, most people only think of how to excuse them. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 47)

BL: I knew there was life. I knew there was death--but I never knew love was--like this...real.
ML: It's more real than life or death. Life doesn't last so long and death's soon over, but I think love goes on.
(Brenda Laing, Mark Lester; p. 72)

Bobby decided to take a stroll through the gardens and see what he could find there, and as he did so he felt he knew nearly as much about the household as if  he had lived there for years.
  "More," he told himself, "for then I should only have my own ideas and they would be all wrong, but now I've got the ideas of four women and one man, all wrong, too, of course, but adding five all wrongs together should get one somewhere near the truth--" (Constable Bobby Owen; p. 74) this sentiment all cordially agreed, for they had all read the same thing in the paper that morning and naturally therefore they all believed it. (p. 82)

Of course, you can never tell, any trifle may give the clue you're looking for and clear up everything, only there are so many trifles and only one that hides the clue. (Bobby Owen; p. 85)

Feeble sort of story, but it might be true, feeble stories sometimes are, most likely because truth's a feeble growth in this world. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 98)

You can'd always be sure of an alibi. When you are sure of it, it's conclusive. But alibis are often faked and always have been from Dick Turpin on. (Bobby Owen; p. 123)

One or two of  the other customers had also chatted with him occasionally, and could report that he was rather fond of muttering vague threats against someone against whom he cherished a grievance, but a there is nothing on earth so absolutely devoid of all interest as other people's grievances no one had paid him any attention or had any idea to what or to whom he referred. (p. 134)

There's two kinds of luck if you've noticed. One is the kind you take of advantage of. The other is the kind you don't. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 182)

I expect Harrison could tell us if he chose, but I expect you're right and he won't talk--hate's a silent thing, not like love; love's on the chattering side, every lover likes to tell you all about it but hate keeps quiet. (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 184)

Never believe anything, my boy or disbelieve it, either. Nothing's too bad for human nature. Nothing's too good, either, thank God, or else a few years in the police service would drive you clean out of your mind. (Mitchell to Owen; p. 199)

BO: There's such a thing as being too clever by half.
SM: So there is and it's fatal. You can be not clever enough, and get away with it all right, but when you're too clever, then, sooner or later, you crash.
(Bobby Owen, Superintendent Mitchell; p. 224)

SM: Got any sandwiches?
BO: No, sir.
SM: A good detective never forgets his sandwiches. That's the first law of all sound detective work--don't forget the sandwiches. We may have to wait there all day.
(Superintendent Mitchell, Bobby Owen; p. 229) is very difficult to tell what is being good when one is only five--and when one is older, then it is more difficult still. (p. 244)

He was a man with a great gift for not understanding--especially when he did not want to understand. (p. 251)

I wonder if there are other houses like ours, houses that look so calmly prosperous, so placidly content, proud houses where doubt and fear and guilt brood day and night. (p. 253)

In police work, you never know anything till you can put it in a report, with all the "i's" dotted and the "t's" crossed--" (Superintendent Mitchell; p. 268)

Last line: As for Constable Robert Owen, he has received his transfer from the uniform ranks to the C.I.D., where, as he is known to stand rather well with Superintendent Mitchell, he will probably be called upon to play his part in any other difficult or complicated case that may arise.

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