The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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June 3, 2016

Murder of a Lady

Mr. Leod McLeod, Procurator Fiscal of Mid-Argyll, was known throughout that country as 'Monarch of the Glen.' He deserved the title, if only because of the shape and set of his head and the distinction of his features. A Highlander, full length, in oils, dignified as a mountain, touchy as a squall, inscrutable, comic in the Greek sense. When at ten o'clock at night he came striding in, past the butler, to the smoking-room at Darroch Mor, even Dr. Eustace Hailey gasped, giving, by that, joy to his host, Colonel John MacCallien.
As I mentioned a little while ago, our libraries have started to offer more of these newish British Library Crime Classics.  As if that opening paragraph wasn't enough, or the cover wasn't enough, or a sleuth named Eustace Hailey wasn't enough, to draw me in, this is the second one I've read, and the second one I've liked very much.  {Thank you to Lyn for sending me in search of this one. Plus, when she described it, I noticed that it could be the second mystery I'd be reading -- after this delightful one -- with fish scales as a major clue. I mean, who could resist?}

Murder of a Lady combines some traditional elements {a country house, locked rooms, a limited circle of people for its suspects and victims) with others that were more unusual {a doctor as its sleuth, the identities of two of the many victims}.  Not to mention that even though the murderer was exactly who it had to be, I never guessed.

The introduction (by Martin Edwards tells us that Anthony Wynne {the pseudonym of an Edinburgh doctor} wrote crime novels and stories featuring 'impossible crimes' -- 'Time after time, he confronted his...detective with situations in which the victim was killed, quite on his own, in plain view of witnesses who were unable to explain how a close-quarters blow had been struck.'  He also noted that Dr. Hailey's 'career' lasted from the 1920s to the 1950s, so that lets me hope that I'll find a few more of the 28 {!!} books in this series {this was no. 12} in the stacks.

    'I must apologize, gentlemen, for disturbing you at this unseasonable hour.'
      'Mr. McLeos bowed as he spoke, like a sapling in a hurricane.
      'Thank you. Yes. Yes, I will. Dear me, is it ten o'clock?'
      John MacCallien signed to his butler, who moved a table, furnished with decanters and siphons, closer to his visitor.  He invited him to help himself.
     'That's very kind of you. Well, well...'
     Mr. McLeod poured what seemed to Dr. Hailey a substantial quantity of whiskey into a tumbler. He drank the whiskey undiluted, at a gulp. A sigh broke from his lips.
      'Believe me, gentleman,' he said in solemn tones, 'it is not lightly that I have troubled you. I heard that Dr. Hailey was staying here. It seemed to me that the gravity of the case and our remoteness from help gave me title to lay his skill under contribution.'
     He moved uneasily as he spoke. Dr. Hailey observed that his brow was damp.
     'There's been murder,' he said in low tones, 'at Duchlan Castle. Miss Mary Gregor has been murdered.'
      'Yes, Colonel MacCallien, it's too true. Murdered, poor lady while sleeping in her bed last night.'
 The Procurator Fiscal's hand was raised in a gesture which expressed condemnation as well as horror. ...
      'It was no ordinary knife which made that wound,' he declared in hoarse tones. 'The flesh has been torn.' He turned and addressed himself to Dr. Hailey. 'Miss Gregor was lying crouching beside her bed when they found her.' He paused, the blood diminished in his face. 'The door of that room was locked on the inside and the windows of that room were bolted.'


Terra said...

I know I will like this book and I wrote down the author's name. Good to know he wrote quite a few mysteries.

Christine Harding said...

I don't read a lot of crime, but I've read and enjoyed quite a few of these British Library reprints of crime classics - I particularly liked Death on the Cherwell and Quick Curtain.

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