The Bungalow Mystery by Annie Haynes (1923)

Annie Haynes has moved from obscurity to every work in print so quickly that I hardly knew what to read first:

  • Should I continue to read the Inspector Stoddart books?
  • Should I introduce myself to Inspector Furnivall?
  • Or should I read one of her stand-alone novels?

I dithered for a while but in the end I had to pick up The Bungalow Mystery, the first of those stand-alone books, because I loved the title, I loved the sound of the story, and because it was the first – I am told – the most obscure of all of Annie Haynes’ twelve novels.

It proved to be a wonderfully entertaining mixture of sensation novel and golden age murder mystery.

It was far from perfectly executed – it had extraordinary coincidences, ridiculous scenarios, and significant plot holes – but the story rolled forward with conviction, the writing was engaging, and so I had a lovely time reading.

The murder came at the very start of the story.


Dr Roger Lavington was new to his small town medical practice when he answered an urgent summons from the housekeeper of the reclusive neighbour he had never met. He found that Maximilian Von Rheinhart had been shot dead; and he sent the housekeeper to fetch the police while he waited with the body.

As he waited he sensed that he was not alone; and he wasn’t. He found a terrified young woman hiding behind the curtains. Thinking of his dead mother and sister – and not thinking of what she might have done or of the consequences of what he was doing – he agreed to her plea to be allowed to escape and sent her to hide in his house while he dealt with the police.

Dr Lavington’s next problem was how to explain the presence of his houseguest. He presented her to his housekeeper as his cousin, who had been going to visit before going abroad, who had called off her visit, but who had found that she had time and couldn’t leave without seeing her cousin.

The young woman played the part with aplomb – she made quite an impression – before suddenly disappearing ‘with friends’.

The next day a woman fitting her description, and papers connecting her to Rheinhart, was among the fatalities in a train crash. The police believed that explained the evidence of the presence of a woman at the scene; and Dr Lavington sadly concluded that his involvement with the murder case was over.

He was wrong.

Two years later Dr. Lavington, who had decided that the life of a small town doctor was not for him,  was a resident medical supervisor for his friend Sir James Courtenay, who had lost his legs in that train crash. Since then Courtenay has refused to see his fiancée, Daphne Luxmore, breaking her heart and leading her to become a recluse. Daphne had a sister, Elizabeth, and when Dr. Lavington met her he was struck by her resemblance to the young woman he had helped.

He fell in love with her. That made his life – and his relationship with his employer – rather complicated.

Meanwhile, the police had found new evidence and had reopened the murder case.

Dr. Lavington found that he had been a suspect all along ….

The mystery – and a contrivance or two – kept the story rolling along nicely.

There was an arrest.

There was a trial.

But that might not be the end ….

Following Dr. Lavington through the story was interesting; giving a different perspective on a murder mystery. He didn’t want his subterfuge to be discovered, but he did want a resolution. It was frustrating, but I understood why, once he had made that first fateful decision. he acted as he did.

There were many familiar elements in this story – particularly towards the end – but I can’t remember coming across them put together as they were in this book before.

It works – in spite of its failings –  which I can’t explain without spoiling the plot – because I could understand the motivations and the actions of every character I met; and because Annie Haynes had a way of telling her stories that was so very engaging.

Now I have to work out which of them to read next ….

The Man with the Dark Beard by Annie Haynes (1928)

I picked up ‘The Man with the Dark Beard’ because I loved the title, and because I was intrigued by the promise of a story that brought together elements of the sensation novel and elements of the modern (for the 1920s) mystery story.

It starts with Dr. John Bastow asking for advice from his oldest friend, Sir Felix Skrine:

‘Suppose that in the course of a man’s professional career he found that a crime had been committed, had never been discovered, never even suspected, what would you say such a man ought to do?’

Sir Felix, a King’s Counsel, advises his friend to speak to the police, but something makes his friend hesitant. He decides to think about it and maybe talk it over again.

Later that day the doctor is found dead in his study, shot through the head.

Detective Inspector William Stoddart was called in to investigate. He found a half-written letter to Sir Felix; he learned that the Chinese box that held the proofs of the crime that the doctor uncovered was missing;  and he found a scrap of paper on which it seemed that the doctor had written:


Now the solution might seem obvious. Find the crime that Dr. Barstow had discovered and find his killer!

But maybe it wasn’t quite that simple.

  • Basil Wilton, the doctor’s assistant, had fallen in love with his daughter, Hilary, and the two of them wanted to marry. Her father was opposed to the match, and angry that his assistant had courted his daughter behind his back.
  • The parlour maid to the Barstows, Mary Ann Taylor, had been suspected as not quite who she held herself out to be. Not long after the murder she dressed in her best clothes, told the policeman at the door that she was a friend of Hilary’s who had  called to condole with her, and then left the house and disappeared without trace.
  • When concerns about her future were raised, Miss Houlton, the doctor’s secretary, said that she had come into a substantial that very day and would not need to find a new position.
  • Doctor Morris, a close friend and colleague of John Barstow, and the only person in his immediate circle with a beard, couldn’t quite account for his time on the day of the murder. And he attended the inquest clean shaven.

Was any of this significant?

The story was set up nicely, and I found much to enjoy. The characters and their relationships were very well drawn, sensational stories of the past informed the story, and so did the changing times of the 1920s and the future possibilities that must have seem so tantalising then.

26866478Nowhere is that better encapsulated than in Miss Lavinia Priestly, aunt of Hilary and her crippled brother Fee. She  was described as ‘a spinster of eccentric habits’; she was a world traveller; she loved her niece and nephew dearly; she had very firm opinions, some modern and some traditional, and she was always ready to call a spade a spade.

I loved her, and I had a strong suspicion that she was the author’s alter-ego.

As executor of John Bastow’s will, Sir Felix told Hilary that he would respect her father’s wishes and separate her from Basil Wilton. He explained that whoever bought her father’s medical practice would also want the family home that stood alongside it, and so he would give her and her brother a new home;  a cottage just outside his country estate.

Sir Felix laid flowers on his late wife’s grave every day; but it soon became clear that he was positioning Hilary to become his second wife.

Aunt Lavinia thought that if would be a wonderful marriage for Hilary; but Hilary loved Basil and she was not going to give him up.

But back in London Basil Wilton was having all kinds of problems. He became entangled with Miss Houlton, she nursed him through a mysterious illness, and when there was a second murder it appeared that he was the only person with means, motive and opportunity for both crimes.

Inspector Stoddart and his colleague, Alfred Harbord, were thorough, capable, and very professional as they went about their business. I appreciated that they were detectives without gimmicks, and that they dealt so well with all of the people affected by the murders.

The way that the story played out wasn’t too surprising. I had my suspect, their motive, and most of how they did it worked out at a very early stage. I was happy to keep reading though, because Annie Haynes was such a good story-teller, because I was involved with the characters and their concerns, and because I wanted to establish one or two details.

The plot is well constructed, but there are one or too loose ends. And I was disappointed in the ending of Aunt Lavinia’s story.

So the verdict is not quite perfect, but a very enjoyable book nonetheless.

The pull between tradition and modernity was particularly interesting.

And though there is much that is familiar in this book; when considered as a whole it is distinctive and not quite like anybody else I can remember reading.

I’ll happily read more of Annie Haynes’ work, and I’ll be glad to meet her detectives again.