By Ianthe Jerrold, as Geraldine Bridgman
First published: UK, Heinemann, 1938
Blurb (Dean Street Press reprint, 2015)
Murder begins with the death of a kitten…
Artist Jeanie Halliday is thrilled to move into a country cottage of her own, next door to the home of her dear childhood friend Agnes. But the countryside idyll isn’t quite what she might have expected: Agnes is suddenly and unaccountably unfriendly for one thing; and then the neighbours are a little peculiar – old Mr Fone, obsessed with burial mounds; the scandalous Hugh Barchard; and an estranged mother taken to brandishing pistols around.
Soon after the feline victim is found, a shot is heard – the corpse of Robert Molyneux, Agnes’s husband, is discovered with a bullet in his brain. Was Molyneux a meddler in sacred places, a secret lothario… or simply a man who knew too much? And how does the unfortunate cat fit in? It will fall to Jeanie to assist the local police superintendent and fit the pieces of a baffling mystery.
Let Him Lie is a classic golden age detective story from 1940, written by a queen of the form. It includes a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.
Guns and graves in Gloucestershire. Jerrold’s third crime story is more of a suspense mystery than an orthodox detective story. She wrote it nearly a decade after her first two, The Studio Crime (1929) and Dead Man’s Quarry (1930); in the interim, Curt Evans says in the introduction, she’d made a name as a straight novelist – hence the decision to write mysteries under a pseudonym.
I enjoyed it, but more as fiction than as detective fiction. It’s well written and characterized, but I found the plot transparent.
It reminded me of Gladys Mitchell, another English detective writer who, as one critic put it, writes better than she plots. We have prehistoric England (a tumulus – bell grave – with a possible curse); independent young women; and natural, unaffected dialogue.
The viewpoint character is Jeanne Halliday, a sensible, likeable young artist, new to the neighborhood. As an artist ,Jeanie is someone who observes, and who sees clearly – unlike the other characters, who are wrapped up in their emotional problems, or simply in themselves.
The women are skillfully drawn: Agnes Molyneux, the schoolmistress Jeanie idolized, revealed as an insecure egoist; clever, awkward Miss Wills; neurotic Mrs. Peel (no relation to Emma); Marjorie Dasent, plain, sporty, and doomed to spinsterhood; and imaginative adolescent Sarah.
Jeanne talks to the characters, and occasionally discusses theories with them, but doesn’t set out to solve the mystery. The police are seen from a distance, as a menace; Superintendent Finister “disturbs” Jeanie. Towards the end, Jeanie realizes the truth. Whereupon X tries to kill her.
I knew both X and why, and how X would try to kill Jeanie, well in advance. (Intuition!) I also worked out the significance of the vicar of Huntley immediately. (I suspect this may have been intended as a red herring.) Jerrold takes clueing seriously; the deductions from the position of the victim’s head are sound, and the wandering hen is clever.
Jerrold, like Allingham and Sayers, raises the issue of women’s role in marriage. Miss Wills criticizes marriage because wives sacrifice their independence, and depend on their husbands for their happiness. Other relationships are jealous and possessive, again denying the woman’s autonomy.
Jerrold’s answer seems to be that marriage should be founded on mutual respect. The sympathetic, intelligent Jeanie is more mature than the man she (probably) marries, but the couple seems well matched.
This may not be the ideal marriage of mystery-mongering and good writing, but it’s too good to leave lying.