The British Library Crime Classics’ latest blast from the past—this time more of a light squall—is this decorous, conscientiously plotted 1935 whodunit by pseudonymous Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957).
The Rev. Dodd’s weekly session with his old friend Dr. Pendrill to sip sherry and argue about faith and reason is interrupted by some untimely news. Julius Tregarthan has been shot to death inside Greylings, the home he shared with his niece, Ruth, and his servants, Cowper and Mrs. Cowper. Whoever killed him, the vicar and the doctor conclude, must have been a rotten shot, for it took three widely spaced bullets to bring him down. Despite the tiny size of the coastal village of Boscawen, there’s no shortage of suspects, for nearly everyone Tregarthan knew—his distracted niece; her rumored sweetheart, local novelist Ronald Hardy; and the Cowpers—seems to have quarreled with him during the few days before his death. Although the evidence Inspector Bigswell turns up implicates one suspect after another, each new conversation discloses as much exculpatory as incriminating evidence, and even ne’er-do-well poacher Ned Salter is able to prove an unlikely alibi. How can the inspector account for the maze of footprints outside the room? What’s become of the murder weapon? And who is the mysterious “M.L.” who wrote to Tregarthan years ago refusing his money and vowing to keep mum? The inspector plows through layer after layer of evidence, but it’s the vicar who’ll carry off detecting honors.
A golden-age mystery reminiscent of Freeman Wills Crofts and Ronald Knox that’s guaranteed to keep you guessing and second-guessing, though the final payoff falls well short of the buildup.