Farjeon’s gift for striking hooks (Mystery in White, 2016, etc.) reaches a perverse pinnacle in this reprint from 1939 by the British Library of Crime Classics.
On a whim, Ted Lyte, a minor-league pickpocket with ambitions above his station, breaks into a house off Havenford Creek, Benwick. It’s not until he’s let himself in through an obliging window that he wonders whether he should look downstairs for silver or upstairs for jewelry. At any rate, the question is moot, for moments after he opens the wrong door, Ted is fleeing in terror, closely followed by freelance journalist and amateur yachtsman Thomas Hazeldean, who’s struck by the stranger’s suspicious behavior. But who wouldn’t run away from Haven House when he finds the corpses of six men and one woman decorously arrayed around the drawing room? There’s no immediate indication of the cause of all these deaths or even of the identities of the dead people; the only clues are a bullet through the portrait of a young girl hanging in the drawing room, a dead cat on the path outside, and a paper inscribed “WITH APOLOGIES FROM THE SUICIDE CLUB” on one side and “Particulars at address 59•16s 4•6e G” on the other. To indulge in Farjeon’s own brand of dry understatement, it’s quite a riddle for DI Kendall and Sgt. Wade, and it’s lucky for them that Hazeldean has taken such an interest in the case. And lucky for the reader as well, since his adventures when he pursues a lead to the Pension Paula, the house in Boulogne that’s currently home to John Fenner, the master of Haven House, and his niece, Dora, the original of the defaced portrait, are a good deal more interesting, if more helter-skelter, than Kendall and Wade’s straight-faced attempts to discover the pattern beneath the chaos in Benwick.
Readers won’t be surprised to find the answers less compelling than the memorably baroque riddle of the opening tableau.