The Family Tree Mystery by Peter Bartram – an enjoyable Crampton of the Chronicle Adventure set in 1967

The Family Tree Mystery by Peter Bartram

This is another in the brilliant “Crampton of the Chronicles” series that I have so greatly enjoyed in the fairly recent past. According to the quote on the back cover I “Thoroughly Recommend the Entire Series” and I certainly do, especially on the evidence of this latest adventure. New readers can enjoyably start with this particular book as it reintroduces the characters and situations with well – paced comments as the Brighton crime reporter, Colin Crampton. tracks down another story of murder and machinations. This time it becomes little closer to home than most as the mystery seems to involve his girlfriend, model Shirley Goldsmith, who even in the somewhat different world of 1967 has far more skills, instinct and integrity than it may first appear. As always Colin and Shirley have to rely on their wits and survival instinct not only to sort out what is really happening, but to get them out of tricky situations where the danger is real. With his trademark humour and taste for chaos, Bartram has scored a hit once more with this story that mixes some real people and familiar situations in this enjoyable and fast paced novel. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this memorable adventure, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys tales written with real humour and excitement.

This book begins with revelations of Shirley’s family story from Australia, told in her usual forthright manner. The subject is raised by her receiving a letter from a mysterious man claiming to be a relative, urging her to be in contact as he has important information for her. Colin immediately agrees to take her to visit the man, but their arrival is shaped by the discovery of a body, as could only happen to Colin. Shaken by the find, they seek further information with an eye to finding out what message he wanted to pass on and also revealing a crime story from the beginning. A potential link with mysterious killings in Australia is a further worrying link to Shirley, but also the basis of a great story for the Brighton Evening Chronicle. Just as Colin is getting the background on the story his editor, Frank Figgis, interrupts with a demand that Colin drop everything and conduct a search of the newspaper offices for the manuscript of his memoirs. Dire threats aside, Colin realises that the pesky papers will reveal far too much about his own somewhat dubious methods of getting stories, so he agrees to the investigation. The far more complex matter of the missing revelations of Shirley’s family tree occupy the couple, especially as one or more genuine London gangsters seem to be involved, as well as a Scottish lord and some women cricketers. As Shirley and Colin must set off for some previously unknown places and demonstrate previously hidden skills, the hunt for the truth seems more complicated than ever.

This is a fast-paced novel which is well plotted and includes some remarkable ideas in its setting of the 1960s. The characters are also so well drawn, including the dangerous, the unlikable and the just awkward. This is a very funny book as well as an exciting read, with a keen eye for the detail of a journalist’s life even if the danger is perhaps a little exaggerated! I so enjoy Peter Bartram’s books, and I genuinely recommend this episode in the life of his special creations.  

Hope for the Innocent by Caroline Dunford – the start of the Wartime Adventures of Hope Stapleford

Hope for the Innocent by Caroline Dunford

Sometimes I discover books by complete chance, and this was one I picked up in a tourist shop. I was pleased to find that it was the first in a series of three (at the moment) and after beginning the first I was keen to track down the others. I also discovered that the author has written an entire series about one of the characters, so that should keep me going. I was attracted to this novel because it tells the story of Hope Stapleford who is a young woman who has recently graduated from Oxford and is poised to begin a Season in London. Her timing is interesting; it is 1939 and there are those who keep an eye on international politics who are convinced that Britain is on the bring of another War. One of those people is Hope’s godfather, Uncle Eric, who seems to really know what is going on in many ways. Not that Hope is keen to be presented at Court and enter into a frantic social scene, but she has been warned to start assert her independence from her parents who live an apparently quiet life in the Fens. When Bernadette, or Bernie, the daughter of the American Ambassador in Britain and Hope’s friend from college begs her to “do” the Season with her, Hope agrees, if only to keep her lively and troublesome friend out of trouble. Then the mystery begins…

When Hope and Bernie discover a crying girl in a garden, they quickly become acquainted. As they are all invited to the same Ball that evening, Bernie insists that Charlotte accompany them. When they arrive, Hope discovers an unusual waiter called Harvey, before she seeks out the library. Meanwhile the far more volatile Bernie has lost sight of Charlotte, and it seems that she has indeed disappeared from the Ball, possibly in the company of a somewhat notorious young man. While the scandal becomes front page news, Hope soon becomes convinced that there is more going on than first appears, and soon recruits the friendly and able Harvey as an assistant to follow any leads on the disappearance.  It soon seems that there is more substance to the situation, and when they set off on a trip to Brighton their varied discoveries colour their investigation. In the turbulent world of pre war politics no one is quite what they seem, and dangers await the inquisitive.

The writing in this book is well paced and captured my interest from the start. Hope tells the story in her own voice, and while she seems a quick thinker, is only gradually emerges that she has skills in concealment that appear to have been taught her by her unconventional godfather with the blessing of at least her mother. It is not an immensely literary book, but is certainly enjoyable and despite certain events, is quite an easy adventure with elements of wartime thriller. Hope does get into tricky situations, as pursuing suspects in full evening dress is only one example of her colourful narration. This is a super read for fans of the bright woman in the interwar period novels, of which there are so many examples. There is a large element of the detection of mysteries here, but the crime seems to extent further than greed, and into murky waters of which Hope is only beginning to appreciate. This is a lively and fast paced introduction to a fascinating series, and I look forward to more adventures with Hope and indeed a certain Euphemia.

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley – A 1932 crime classic with a school element republished in the British Library Crime Classic Classics series

Murder in the Basement by Anthony Berkeley

This 1932 novel is another Anthony Berkeley gem in which he experiments with form to produce a more than satisfying classic in the detective genre. It has republished in the British Library Crime Classics series and is well worth seeking out as an example of a mystery victim novel, a change in format in the second main part, and the eventual working out of the story. As Martin Edwards points out in his informative Introduction to the novel, Berkeley firmly believed in basing his characters on real people, and he inserts this theory into the words of his regular amateur detective, Roger Sheringham. Instead of actively helping the police in the form of Chief Inspector Moresby, he hands the manuscript of a novel over, and invites him to read it in order to possibly further the official investigation into a potential victim, and even murderer. Thus, a novel within in a novel may provide Moresby with the vital clues he needs to solve this unusual mystery. Altogether I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this intriguing and darkly humourous novel.

The beginning of the novel is a fairly standard set up in that the new occupants of a rented house, a young married couple, discover a disturbance in the floor of the basement. The inquisitive husband decides to dig a little deeper, and to his horror discovers human remains. The subsequent police search turns up the body of a young woman, obviously a murder victim, but completely unidentifiable. She cannot be linked to any past resident of the house, and the neighbours know nothing of a young woman visitor. While some people advise Moresby that the case is hopeless, he doggedly continues his investigation until a tenuous link to Roger Sheringham emerges. Sheringham has been teaching at a school many miles from the crime scene, and has been using the opportunity to draft a novel based on the unseen machinations of the staff. It is this narrative which forms the basis of the second section of the novel, and those who enjoy school or small community based novels will find this part  fascinating. While the implications of Sheringham’s text may suggest a number of potential leads to Moresby, the perennial problem of discovering sufficient evidence arises.

This is a novel which I really enjoyed reading, with enough twists and turns to keep my interest. Not that this is a novel of tricks; the quality of the writing even when seemingly unrelated to the murder mystery is so high that the school narrative would have been an interesting read on its own. The drawing of characters is so assured that wherever Berkeley drew his inspiration from, they are solid and convincing. They are three dimensional in so many ways, and the politics of staff room and study is very satisfying. While Sheringham on one level seems to take little active part in the investigation, his somewhat relaxed attitude is suitably frustrating to Moresby. The first part of the novel with its careful depiction of forensics in the 1930s is also fascinating, especially when compared to the high tech police dramas of today. Overall, I really enjoyed this classic novel which has been made available once more, and I am sure it will please fans of Berkeley as well as make new admirers of his well-written novels.

Virginia Woolf – Art, Life and Vision by Frances Spalding – An extensively illustrated biography of the influential writer

Virginia Woolf – Art, Life and Vision by Frances Spalding

This is a slightly different book for me to review, and the exhibition it was related to is but a memory, but this excellent and brilliantly illustrated book sets out not only Virginia Woolf’s life and times, but also has so many pictures of every type. It was actually produced to go alongside an exhibition in 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery, and accordingly it reproduces in beautiful quality most of the pictures displayed; it is like having an exhibition at home without the travelling and no crowds! Furthermore, as the text is written by Frances Spalding who is a noted art historian, critic and biographer, Professor of Art History and an expert on the Bloomsbury Group among related subjects, every caption as well as the extensive text is written with real authority.

For those who enjoy portraiture like myself, it has over a hundred photographs, portraits and illustrations to delight in. Some are well known featuring Virginia herself, but it also portrays family and friends, those she met and admired, those who were of significance in her life and works. There are also the illustrations from early printed editions of her work, many of which were produced by her sister Vanessa for the small press which Virginia founded with her husband Leonard, as well as illustrations of her homes. Each picture is fully captioned in an informative way. Some of the illiustrations compliment the well -known pictures with less well known images, including Virgina’s close family and friends. Her connections with literary world from her young adult life onwards, as well as her sister’s involvement with the world of art means that there are some well known people’s images here, reaching back to the early photography of Julia Margaret Cameron and up to the mid-1940s.

The text of the book is also a considerable achievement. There has been so much written about Virginia Woolf, as well as her own considerable output of novels, essays, diaries, and other writing that to tackle a biography of her life and influence is a considerable undertaking, both to write and even read. Apparently the standard biography by Hermione Lee is some 900 pages, and her husband and others wrote first hand biographies of her which are a substantial body of work especially when seen as the part of the Bloomsbury group. This book relates her life and works in a far more approachable form, but with no compromises on the essential details. It places her work in context as the ground breaking writing as it was, and also includes reference to her important relationships and friendships. There are footnotes placed at the end of each chapter, a Chronology, Further Reading, Acknowledgments, Picture Credits and an extensive Index.

This book combines portraits of many kinds with a well written Life, and stands as a robust academic introduction to a much admired writer. Virgina wrote “Nothing has really happened until it has been recorded”, and this book revels in that recording in so many ways. It is very readable, as the biography at its heart flows so well between the admirable illustrations. I have long had an interest in Woolf and her contemporaries, read most of her novels and some of her other works, and I found much to interest me in this revealing book. It covers the well known material, but also those elements of her life that are hinted at, especially with reference to the paintings and photographs which capture her and those she met. It is a wonderful introduction to Virginia Woolf for anyone wishing to know more about this influential writer, and those who are expert in her writings and life will find new ways to think about her life and times with relatively obscure illustrations so well presented. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the literary and artistic world of the first half of the twentieth century and who enjoys a beautifully presented book.

Death of Jezebel by Christianna Brand – A 1949 murder mystery classic republished in the British Library Crime Classics series

Death of Jezebel by Christiana Brand

This is a classic tale of murder in a dramatically different locked room setting – with only a small list of potential suspects. Yet Brand cleverly twists and turns this plot of mystery, revenge and so much more between her suspects in the most spectacular of circumstances all overseen by two detectives: the bright and keen Inspector Charlesworth and the older, slightly cynical Inspector Cockrill. There are threats of murder, alliances and mixed motives as well as the murder in the face of an audience transfixed by a pageant’s spectacle in this brilliantly written novel originally published in 1949, now made available in the British Library Crime Classics series. As Martin Edwards states in his Introduction to this reprinted novel, this book had gained almost legendary status for its sheer audacity and clever handling of a murder mystery, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

Set in post-war London, where people are eager for a glimpse of life beyond the mundanity of rationing, a grand exhibition of household and other goods is to have its climax in a pageant depicting knights on horses and a girl in a tower. The characters are listed in the front of the novel including “Johnny Wise, who died: and to avenge whose death two of the following also died – and one was a murderer.” The seven characters are listed, and all have a connection to the pageant, are mostly present on a stage when a young woman is thrown from the tower dead. Not that it is a complete surprise that a serious crime attends this event; there have been three death threats received in the lead up to the show, and Inspector Cockrill has chosen to be present rather than at a conference. He is still smarting from a recent failure in an crime solving operation in his own area; and it is with reluctance that the police officer in charge accepts his unofficial help, despite his closeness to one of the suspects.

Essentially the crime revolves around how a young woman, a deeply unpleasant individual with her eye on the main chance, meets her death on the top of a tower while all eyes are on the scene, dominated by a number of men dressed as medieval knights on real horses arranged beneath her.  Perhaps no potential murder suspect has adopted a more elaborate disguise than to be a knight in full armour alongside others. Not that all the suspects are on the stage; at least three are either backstage or watching the spectacle with dedicated interest. The build up to the murder involves all the high drama of the staging of the unusual event, the resulting investigation displays the complexities of relationships in the shadow of war, a young man’s death, an illicit attraction and the struggle to find the truth in the light of so many potential motives.

This is a book that I thought really revelled in all the potential combinations of motive and opportunity that were so well presented by the clever author. There were so many possibilities presented in detail, so many elements to consider to what seemed at first sight to be a straightforward very public murder. There are thriller like elements as one or two of the suspects’ particular vulnerabilities are examined, and some unexpected developments certainly surprised me. This is a murder mystery that goes beyond merely whodunnit  into how and why in unexpected ways. I certainly recommend it to all those who enjoy a complex mystery written in the classic style.   

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes – As Diana Mitford marries, can Louisa discover the truth behind her glittering circle and murder?

The Mitford Scandal by Jessica Fellowes

This third book in “The Mitford Murders” series works perfectly well as a stand alone book, and will be of great interest to all those who are fascinated by the famous Mitford sisters. It is a novel, and therefore the characters of the sisters are adapted to fit what is basically an well written murder mystery. Set in 1928 onwards, this novel focuses on Diana, generally supposed to be the most beautiful of the sisters, who marries at a relatively young age the wealthy Bryan Guiness, heir to a fortune. The novel is mainly related from the point of view of her maid companion Lousia Cannon, the linking fictional character in these books. She was close to Nancy Mitford previously, who also appears in this novel, and is now selected by Diana as a useful link with the past and able to cope with Diana’s new lifestyle as a famous socialite. Those who have read the previous novel will know that Louisa had a difficult childhood, from which she escaped into the chaotic world of the Mitfords. Guy Sullivan, who had also been close to Louisa, has now been promoted to Detective Sergeant and is ambitious and hard -working, though now regretfully out of touch with the curious young woman.

When a sudden death occurs at a society event, Louisa happens to be present behind the scenes and wonders at the circumstances. Called in to investigate, Guy spots the names of Nancy and Diana on the guest list and wonders. Louisa had such ambitions to join the police force but seems to have slipped from sight. Louisa is smarting from her failure to follow her ambitions, and her job as an agency servant soon brings her back into contact with Diana and Nancy.  From this meeting will come a job offer from Diana during the following year, as she has succumbed to Bryan’s offers of marriage, and is now to have the society wedding of the year. Diana wants Louisa  to be her personal maid, and thus gain access to a new world of wealth and sophistication as her companion in helping with dazzling outfits and limitless travel. It is only when an unfortunate death occurs in Diana’s inner circle that Louisa’s curiosity is aroused, and coincidentally Guy happens to be on the scene.  Can the two ever work together to solve the mysteries that seem to be swirling around the young couple, especially when both have now established new relationships?

This is a series of books that I am enjoying discovering, partly because of their interwar setting and also because of their complex plots involving Louisa and Guy. I enjoy the references to the Mitford sisters, which in the interests of the mysteries are heavily adapted, but are essentially correct in terms of Diana’s marriage and subsequent attraction to an infamous historical character who would transform her life. The focus on Louisa and Guy is fascinating, as they emerge as solid and real people against the society posturing of the celebrity crowd. This book also plunges into some of the secrets of the period in terms of drug use and the prohibition of gay relationships. At the back of the book an historical note points out the real events and people who are referred to in the novel, including Evelyn Waugh and Dora Carrington. This book is solidly based on research into the lives of the Mitfords and the times generally. A Bibliography reveals some of the sources used which would be would be of interest especially to those wanting to know more. This is a book which skilfully blends fact and fiction to provide an exciting murder mystery which has a lot to say about the lives of the main characters and a society which was heading for another enormous War. I recommend it as a good and involving read and a brilliant addition to a strong series.    

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam – Life in a large country house – a dream made reality in the mid twentieth century reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow from Dean Street Press

A House in the Country by Ruth Adam

This fascinating and well written novel of life in a country house in the immediately post Second World War period is a classic story of a project begun with all good intentions and dreams, but how the struggle soon became real. Originally published in 1957, it has been reprinted in the Furrowed Middlebrow series by Dean Street Press and thus another classic has been made available. I think that it has a lot of echoes for today in that London dwellers buy a big country property with the hope of a new lifestyle. Reality intrudes but in strange ways – an unfriendly village to win over, the daily fight with plumbing, and the mysteries of a house designed for an upstairs downstairs support system.

The honest narrator along with her husband and group of friends only see the romance of living together in a thirty three room manor in Kent, the promise of self-sufficiency, the joys of bringing up children in spacious surroundings, the opportunity for weekends with friends from London marvelling at the establishment.  Then there is the cold light of reality behind this fictionalised account of the actual experiences of living in a big house with its many demands. Enlivened by the characters of bemused locals, visitors and the actual inhabitants, this lively novel brings alive post war conditions, the demands of life in a big house and all the dramas attendant of community living. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The story begins with a joint dream by those who had fought with the cramped conditions of rooms and flats in London through a war. Those who have read “Spam Tomorrow” by Verily Anderson also reprinted by Dean Street Press will have an idea of the constant juggling for space in cramped rooms with nightly excursions to air raid shelters. The four men and two women, together with Adam’s children, discover their dream house in Kent, and hasten to set up home in the gardens and large empty rooms. Ruth is to provide the domestic oversight with the help of an elderly gardener. Howard, who has jealously guarded the house since the Colonel left and is the only one who can persuade the ancient boiler and plumbing to continue working. The group are wildly enthusiastic about their new home, even though their small amount of furniture is insufficient to fill the large rooms. They combine their efforts to create a visitor’s room for those they dream of inviting, and indeed friends and acquaintances do discover the rural idyll of life in the country. Ruth’s children learn many skills, even thought the suspicious locals are shocked that a child from the manor attends the local school. A revered magnolia tree presents a magical display, there are flowers for the house in abundance, the house delights in its many secrets, even the outbuildings are soon full of livestock. It all seems wonderful.

All too soon problems present themselves. While the other adults work in London to pay the bills, Ruth is left with the domestic drudgery of a house who is essentially an aristocratic lady with many demands. Although she seems to work continuously to keep the house functioning, a hundred plus hours a weeks are insufficient. Happily domestic help is available eventually, and Ruth has less cause to think of a scullery maid imprisoned in a damp dark kitchen constantly washing pots and pans. There are many characters locally and visiting;  a popular radio comic increases their local standing, politicians advise on the hours that staff should work, and pigs are a memorable addition to the stock of the house in many ways. All these elements make up a sometimes serious but often funny story of daily life in a remarkable house.   

This is an engaging book with so much to say about the people who come to be associated with a remarkable house, which becomes a character in its own right. There are harsh realities, but also the dream fulfilment of living for a time in a house which encapsulates so many war time ambitions for a different life. There is humour in the little touches of reality, the small daily occurrences of community, the vagaries of country life, the personalities involved. I recommend this book to anyone who has dreamt of a different life in the country, or who is fascinated by the changes from the mid forties to the mid-fifties of the twentieth century in all its colour and richness.  

Beasts in My Belfrey by Gerald Durrell – The Animals of Whipsnade in 1945 – including humans

Beasts in My Belfrey by Gerald Durrell

Gerald Durrell was, like his older brother, a very good writer, even if they chose very different subjects. In this funny and fascinating book, Gerald presents a (fictionalised) memoir of his year as a trainee zookeeper in 1945. Anyone who is concerned about the keeping of animals in zoos will soon discover that Gerald’s ambition was always to be an animal collector, which translated to finding endangered and rare creatures in order to conserve a species, to enable a breeding programme which would improve the survival of the animals. This culminated in the animal collection which is still going strong on Jersey today, an “ark” which fulfils Gerald’s dream. All this is much in the future when the young Gerald applies to Whipsnade Zoo for vital experience. The fact that it would take him away from his family who had barely tolerated his collecting animals at times represented a challenge – but in the first instance at least he was a cossetted lodger. He discovers a cast of human characters that provide many funny anecdotes, as well as the animals who carry on living their lives despite as well as because of his ministrations.

This genuinely funny book features many creatures that Gerald soon has to learn to negotiate as he strives to keep them fed, watered, clean and entertained. Some animals virtually ignored him, some were openly affectionate, while others seemed determined to do him harm. In every section of the zoo he becomes  involved in learning their habits, the best way to manoeuvre round them and establish a relationship with them as much as possible. He also does the research on the particular breed and species, and I certainly learnt a lot about the origins, the behaviour and the special needs of many of the animals. Not that the facts are boring; they are presented in Gerald’s usual style with a great deal of humour. Thus we discover how he is thrown in at the deep end with the lions – not the beginner animal he had fondly imagined. Albert and his wives look overweight and lazy, but Jesse instructs Gerald that they are still dangerous, and Gerald soon discovers by observation how dangerous. He watches as Albert pushes his wives aside for the most tempting joint of meat, and says “Albert had a genius for being annoying”. The weekly task of removing the discarded bones from the lions’ domain required persuading them into a trap, which was far more difficult than it at first seemed. Moreover, when wandering around collecting the bones with Joe, the roaring of the beasts suggests that they have got free. As both men run for the exit,  “Is he out?” I inquired when we were safely outside the cage. “I don’t know,” said Joe, “I didn’t wait to see.”

There are other adventures with animals varying from the small to the large, the giraffe and his goat companion, the extrovert female polar bear with her sedate partner. There are the excitements of separating female bears from their cubs, breaking the ice for baby yaks and discovering many things about wolves. Gerald also revels in the human staff that surround him, including the vet and the plaster of Paris, the dormitory accommodation and food, the teasing over his notebooks and much more. There are some very funny set pieces such as the regular journeys to the cinema and the resigned attitude of some of the keepers to their tasks. Gerald points out that the keeping staff were not necessarily chosen for their enthusiasm for animals, but they genuinely did their best.

This is an enjoyable read which I would recommend for both animal lovers and those who are unsure of the finer differences between some of the animal breeds. Gerald also revels in the descriptions of the human animals that become part of his life, and those are also very funny. This is definitely a book to cheer up a dull day, which combines humour with information and reflections on the need to conserve animals lest there be a severe reduction in the number of species forever. A jolly and funny book, a lovely read for anyone.

The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson – A snowy mystery in the British Library Crime Classic series

The White Priory Murders by Carter Dickson (John Dickson Carr)

The book may have been referred to as a seasonal book, but essentially the only important thing is that the weather is snowy. Originally published in 1934, this is another reprint in the fantastic British Library Crime Classics series. The helpful Introduction by Martin Edwards reveals how John Dickson Carr wrote his stories of the multi – skilled Sir Henry Merrivale, baronet, barrister and physician. His skills appeared in twenty-two novels and two short stories, and this book demonstrates his special abilities in solving mysteries that others are finding impossible. This is not a locked room mystery in the obvious way, but a combination of an upmarket outbuilding near a large house with only one set of footprints in the snow. There is a relatively small group of potential suspects for the brutal murder of actor Marcia Tait, film star, who is on a mission to reveal her talent on the London stage. A list of the key characters is included in the Introduction to the novel which I found very helpful for reference, apparently it featured in the first edition and as an extra has been developed by various authors. It is an intense book in parts, with virtually every character coming under suspicion at some point, but also with a certain humour in the oddities of the inhabitants, temporary or permanent of the White Priory. I really enjoyed this book and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

James Bennett first meets his uncle Henry Merrivale in his characteristic office, a bit overwhelmed and baffled by this venerable and memorable man with his extensive experiences. James is over from America armed with warnings from his father about the man who seems to specialise in impossible situations, and an ill defined mission to accompany those travelling with the mercurial Marcia to the Priory for Christmas. Her producer, agent, lover and a playwright are all present, the last being the Master of the house, Maurice Bohun. Two young women, Louise Canifest, daughter of the play’s backer, and Katharine Bohun are present, and become thoroughly involved in the mystery of the murder and the apparent dangers in the unique house. The discovery of Marcia’s battered body in the Queen’s Pavilion following a night which she demanded to stay the night alone shocks all of those present, involved as they were with the proposed play in which she was to star. Chief Inspector Masters quickly arrives to attempt to identify the culprit but is baffled by the reactions of those he tries to interview. Revelations and twists ensue, where there seems no relief from the dangers and disturbances in the house which holds its own secrets added to the murder mystery. With little personal stake in the fate of the actress, James becomes the observer, counsellor and most impressed by Merrivale when he arrives. In a situation which is at best confusing, at worse dangerous. Merrivale must draw on his suspicions and talents to get to the truth of what truly happened in the pavilion that night.

I found this book an intriguing mystery which was at times a little confusing, but was always entertaining because of the characters which are well drawn. The tracks in the snow is not an unusual mystery complication, but it is well handled and there are lots of additional red herrings, twists and turns. I would certainly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a classic murder mystery with some unusual characters and the redoubtable skills of Henry Merrivale.