The first of Molly Thynne’s six detectives novels – which have just been sent out into the world again, after being lost for many years – opens with a wonderfully painted scene.
On a stormy night in late winter a young gentleman farmer arrived home, after a wasted journey, to find his front door swinging wide open. When he goes through that doorway he finds a young woman he has never set eyes on before, dressed in evening wear, sitting at his writing desk, and shot dead in the act of writing a letter.
All of his neighbours believe that scene played out exactly as he said it did, but the police are think otherwise.
He is arrested, and tried for murder.
Because the murder weapon was the shotgun that he kept in his bedside table. Because he had no alibi, and his account of how he had spent his time that day seemed rather improbable. And because it was very easy to build a scenario that had him in the role of murderer.
The evidence was circumstantial but it was compelling.
It was fortunate that there were people who believed that the man on trial was innocent, and were willing to do whatever they could to help his cause. There washis fiancée, a lovely girl, who had complete faith in him; there was a local lawyer who was ready to act, even though his beloved wife was in poor very health; and there was a gentleman who had just returned from colonial service and was ready to take the lead in an investigation of their own.
They found new suspects. The victim had a very proper sister who disapproved of her behaviour. The local doctor’s unusual reaction when he was called to the scene did not pass unnoticed. And a tramp who was sheltering near the farm might have seem something or might have done something.
Where would they find the answers they sought? In the past? In the dead woman’s character?
Why did she go to the farm? How did she get there, in evening slippers on a stormy night?
What really happened?
Could the answer be found – and could the case be made – in time?
This plot plays out beautifully. It was cleverly structured, it was well paced, and it really was intriguing. My suspicions kept shifting, and I never could quite make up my mind
There are familiar elements to the mystery, but as a whole it feels original; it is firmly rooted in the golden age but I saw the influence of an earlier generation of sensation novelists at play as well as the influence of more famous crime writers who were Molly Thynne’s peers.
Some of those peers may have written more complex, more sophisticated, mysteries; but I can’t think of one who wrote a more engaging human drama.
The characters involved in this story were so real, so natural, so believable, that I couldn’t help being drawn in and their concerns became mine.
That took time, and in the early chapters of this book I didn’t think I would like this book as much as I did.
It isn’t that it’s perfect. There were some startling coincidences. There were some points that could have been made with a little more subtlety. And there was a clear lack of understanding of medical science.
But I have to say that this was an engaging story and that it was very well told.
I had a lovely time forming theories. Some were underpinned by the facts that were emerging and some were inspired by my wishes for particular characters.
The conclusion caught me by surprise. I think that it was right, I think that it was inevitable, but it broke my heart in a way that few golden age crime novels ever have.
An afterword tied up the loose ends.
And left me eager to read the rest of Molly Thynne’s work.