Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Mystery at Greenfingers

 The Mystery at Greenfingers
(1937) by J. B. Priestley

Priestley's mystery play is set at the Greenfingers Palace Hotel on the edge of the Peak District. In fact, one of the characters declares that's it's "easily the highest big hotel in England. We're nearly fifteen hundred feet up." A small group of employees have gone to the hotel in advance of the winter season to make sure the hotel is ready for business. There are several new faces in the crowd--employees who have joined the staff from other hotels--some owned by the same company and some not. A sudden snowstorm strands them all--including Mr. Crowther, a hotel detective sent by the home office to investigate a suspected crime, and Miss Tracey, an investor in the company who has brought along Mrs. Jernigan (described as "her companion."). 

The two ladies are no sooner installed in a couple of empty rooms than the snow cuts the hotel off from outside help, the phone lines go down, and loud bangs that sound like gunshots go off in Mrs. Jernigan's room. When Crowther and the hotel employees reach the room, they find it locked on the inside. The door is forced and, though there is a smell like gunpowder in the room there is no gun and...no Mrs. Jernigan. The windows and the door connecting to Miss Tracey's room are all locked from the inside. Who set off the pistol shots? What happened to the gun? Where is Mrs. Jernigan? And...is she still alive? These are the questions that face Crowther and the hotel staff. And Miss Tracey...for Miss Tracey is a devotee of murder mysteries and she's always fancied herself an amateur detective.

Though Priestley's play does contain a mystery--and a rather cleverly plotted one at that, it is far more steeped in comedy than mystery. It reads like a drawing room comedy where there are people popping in and out of the scene at the oddest moments. You never know who will come through which door next. And I'm quite sure it would have been a hoot to see performed. Miss Tracey reminds me of a far more intense, yet slightly arch Miss Marple or Miss Silver and it was great fun to watch her and Miss Edna Sandars (one of the staff) collect clues that Crowther was too obtuse to recognize. A fun little 1930s mystery/comedy. ★★

First line: Mrs Heaton (scornfully): I'm sorry to interrupt your performance, Mr. Jordan.

I've no drama going on inside, as all you people have. So I can give all my time and energy to noticing what other people are like. You've no idea what a lot you do notice once you've stopped leading an intense personal life yourself. It's people like me who ought to be the detective. That's why I'm enjoying all this. [Miss Tracey; p. 61]

Last line: Miss Tracey: Wrong number! (All three laugh.)

Deaths = one (but to tell how would be a spoiler)

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