The Ladies of Locksley by Francis Vivian – a Dean Street Press Inspector Knollis mystery
This 1953 novel is opened with two meetings which are unusual for a murder mystery. Inspector Knollis, the police officer who will be investigating the knotty problems in this mystery, is meeting with a friend, Brother Ignatius. Their talk is not one of complete agreement, as Ignatius has strong feelings about investigation and judgement. The second meeting is of a Woman’s Club leaders , mainly Mrs Marion Cartland “the uncrowned squireen of the village…She was, of course, also chairman of the Women’s Club” , doesn’t let anyone forget it. Kathleen Morley is honorary secretary, quietly trying to assert her wishes against the wife of her husband’s business partner. This meeting is a carefully written and amusing picture of two women each trying to assert their authority in the selection of speakers to the Club. It introduces the idea of asking Sir Edmund Griffin, an eminent expert on crime, to give a talk. Both of these meetings seem to have little to do with the crime which emerges over the rest of the book. Dean Street Press have reprinted this novel by Vivian along with some of his others, and it is a stunning portrait of a brilliantly constructed murder mystery with some unexpected twists and turns. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
Many of the novels which featured in the Golden Age of Detection struggled to depict women in a truly realistic way, but even the minor female characters are brought to life in this novel. As Inspector Knollis carefully picks his way through the mystery of Roger Cartland’s murder, he takes care to look at many elements of the days that led to his death. A serious car accident seems the obvious cause of death when Cartland’s body is found in his damaged vehicle, but it soon transpires that he was poisoned before he even got into the car. This investigation goes beyond the strict confines of the local area, as it involves Cartland’s jewelry business, and his unusual relationship with Morley as the latter does work on valuable pieces. Knollis is frustrated by the needs and time taken to do painstaking forensic work, and instead does his own investigating which sometimes exceeds the strict rules of procedure. He uses intuition and a dogged determination to investigate the unlikely and the obscure to get to the truth. Brother Ignatius, being almost a voice of conscience and reason, makes appearances in the book which force another approach.
This is a book which repays careful reading, because of the convoluted nature of the plot and the twists and turns which took me by surprise. Inspector Knollis is an attractive and undramatic detective, who does not bring his personal dramas to the investigation. He gets hungry and exhausted, and sometimes has doubts which make him a realistic investigator. Past crimes and holes in the defences of those he questions are patiently investigated and followed up; this is not a matter of brilliant leaps of knowledge but method and determination. Not that Knollis doesn’t make allowances for human weaknesses, he allows for individual reactions and decisions. This is a mature and clever novel, and a good choice for reprinting by the excellent Dean Street Press.
This is one of the really interesting reprints of classic but little known crime novels that Dean Street Press have been producing over the last few years. I have had the opportunity to read several, but I am always keen to discover new authors. Another of their lines is the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, which republishes women novelists of the mid twentieth century. I have particularly enjoyed these and will be hoping to read more at some point. I have even managed to cover some authors’ entire output reprinted by Furrowed Middlebrow, particularly those written during the Second World War. If I have made you want to find out more, why not check their website https://www.deanstreetpress.co.uk/ where they have what I think is a truly mouth watering range of books, and a blog about the blitz spirit and life today. If you follow twitter, you will discover that they always offer a free kindle book every week. Definitely worth more investigation!