Thirteen short stories, mostly written between the two world wars, reveal the dark side of life in the English countryside.
The earliest entries revolve around the fair of face and strong of limb, each with a signature detective who effortlessly unravels a not very knotty puzzle. In M. McDonnell Bodkin’s “Murder by Proxy,” “young, handsome, debonair” Eric Neville advises his equally attractive cousin John to wire Mr. Beck in London to help discover who shot their uncle, Squire Neville, at his Dorset estate. In G.K. Chesterton’s “The Fad of the Fisherman,” Horne Fisher solves the murder of Sir Isaac Hook at his West Country manor house. In E.C. Bentley’s “The Genuine Tabard,” Philip Trent helps George D. Langley, “the finest-looking man in the room,” expose a dodgy deal. Perhaps the best of the early puzzles is Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Black Doctor,” in which Mr. Humphrey comes to the aid of a landowner accused of murdering his neighbor. The fun doesn’t really start, though, until Margery Allingham unmasks the shady side of the Garden Field competition at the village flower show in “A Proper Mystery.” Gladys Mitchell adds her take on the perils of Morris dancing in “Our Pageant.” The indomitable Sgt. Beef solves the murder of an elderly spinster in Leo Bruce’s “Clue in the Mustard.” And Ethel Lina White offers a chilling tale of a damsel in distress in “The Scarecrow.” But far and away the funniest take on country manners is Leonora Wodehouse’s mordant “Inquest,” which turns murder into suicide into murder.
A volume that may not persuade readers that there’s menace in every meadow but certainly shows that English crime isn’t confined to the Smoke.