Duncan, the pseudonym for William Underhill (1918-88), returns to print with a classic Christmas country-house puzzle.
Although Sherbroome House is the ancient seat of the Melvin family, no one of their line is the present owner. The manse was purchased from the penurious last living relative and completely redone by Benedict Grame, who is well-known for celebrating Christmas in a sweeping, old-fashioned way. Among this year’s guests are Grame’s old friend Jeremy Ranier, Ranier’s ward, Denys Arden, and her boyfriend, Roger Wynton, whom Ranier appears to dislike. Old favorites include Rosalind Marsh, Austin Delamere, Mr. and Mrs. Napier, and the stunning Lucia Tristam. New additions this year are professor Lorring and Mordecai Tremaine, a talented amateur sleuth. Grame’s secretary, Nicholas Blaise, is the glue that holds things together for the disparate guests. And adhesive seems to be needed this year, for Tremaine notices a good deal of tension among the guests because several of them are hiding secrets. He’s seen Grame’s sister Charlotte in the nearby town having tea with an unknown man, though she denies she was there. It’s her screams that awaken the household on Christmas Eve, the night Grame famously hangs presents for all his guests on the Christmas tree. This cycle of gifts includes a body lying beneath the tree. The murdered man, who at first everyone assumes is Grame, turns out to be Ranier. Tremaine is fortunate that Superintendent Cannock is an old friend of an officer Tremaine once worked with and is willing to let him investigate. As is often the case in golden-age mysteries, seemingly innocent discussions reveal the secrets so many are trying to hide, at least one of which is dangerous enough to kill for.
Fans of classic British mysteries will delight in this Christmas tale loaded with red herrings and cleverly planted clues.