Mortmain Hall by Martin Edwards – a expert writer constructs a Golden Age of Detection novel


A Golden Age mystery written in the twenty-first century sounds unlikely, but this book proves that it is gloriously possible. Of course the author, Martin Edwards, is not only a contemporary crime author, but the writer of many of the introductions to the British Library Classic Crimes and the editor of several collections of short stories in that highly successful series. He has also written extensively on the Golden Age detective novels, so if anyone knows about the hundreds of novels written at that time it is Edwards. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this well written book. 


 This is the second novel to feature the incredible character of Rachel Savernake, and it follows the successful “Gallows Court”. This novel works very well on its own, combining murder mystery, thriller and several views of different lifestyles in the London of 1930. Rachel is difficult to describe, being very rich, ruthless in her actions and totally dedicated to her work. Not that it is clear what that is – she is dangerously secretive and depends on a group of three people, the Trueman family, to provide her with support in many ways. Not that she needs as much physical protection as most young wealthy women would in similar situations; as she proves in this novel she can defend herself very adequately from the overly amorous men on her own. She is frequently ahead of others in the knowledge of what is truly going on, and in this novel she has a background knowledge of old murder cases which have puzzled many for years. She can predict with some certainty what people will do in many cases, and it is her understanding of people and their motives which can seem to provide her with uncanny foreknowledge. 


It is other people who occupy much of the first part of this novel which begins with the mysterious mourner travelling to a funeral in a special train out of central London. Rachel appears and confronts him with his true identity. She also warns him that he is in danger if he does not allow her to rescue him immediately. His choice at this point gives even more reason to investigate several cases of judicial mistakes, especially as Rachel’s late father was a notorious judge. She contacts her previous associate, an ambitious young journalist named Jacob who has already encountered the Mrs Leonora Dobell who will provide a lot of the mysterious element of this book. It does not take long for Jacob to find himself in deep trouble. Meanwhile, the strange Reggie Vickers is discovering that his life is far from easy, despite his steady job. As Rachel begins to investigate, it seems that the answer to murder and more lies in the mysterious Mortmain Hall. Exactly how dangerous this “Old mausoleum” will be is the threat which must be resolved by more than one person determined to solve more than one mystery.


This novel is a very clever treatment of many of the themes familiar to readers of Golden Age Detection. A determined investigator, an element of personal danger, some death defying situations all go together to create a convincing novel that builds up suspense and maintains it. Many of the recognised ingredients of a successful detective novel are here, mixed in with a memorable investigator, her supporters and associate. I really enjoyed this novel, finding a fascinating mystery in a setting which is a detailed appreciation of the era. The seedy parts of London, the clubs of the moderately wealthy, the personalities associated with the legal system, newspapers and far more all spring to life in Edwards’ excellent book. I thoroughly recommend this book as a marvellous tribute to the tradition of detective writing, and a fascinating read in its own right.   


This is a book which I had been looking forward to reading, and I am happy to say that it did not disappoint. I greatly enjoyed “Gallows Court”, and I have enjoyed many of Edwards other books. The Golden age of Detection has been the subject of a lot of interest in the recent past, largely fuelled by the extremely successful British Library Crime Classic series, of which at least eighty four have been published to date. 

Another publisher who has reprinted many classic mysteries, often in sets by various authors, Is Dean Street Press. Certainly any fan of crime mysteries written in Britain in the mid twentieth century has a lot to choose from at the moment.  

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