- By Vernon Loder
- First published: UK: Collins, 1930; US: William Morrow, 1930
One of the most exhausting detective stories I’ve encountered. Like Ellery Queen’s French Powder Mystery, it opens with a crowd discovering that shop window mannequins are really corpses. Unlike Queen, it’s not very good. The police have to sift through clues, false clues, manufactured evidence, and schools of red herrings before the culprit helpfully confesses. “It seemed to me the only thing was to make everything as confusing as possible so no one would be proved guilty,” X says. As an authorial technique, it has little to recommend it; I was indeed confused and bewildered, even with an A4 piece of paper covered in suspects’ movements. The solution hardly feels worth all the bother. Stick to Queen.
I have 17 Vernon Loders on my Kindle:
- The Button on the Plate
- The Case of the Dead Doctor
- Choose Your Weapon
- The Deaf-Mute Murders
- Death at the Horse Show
- Death at the Wheel
- Death by the Gaff
- Death in the Thicket
- Death of an Editor
- The Essex Murders
- The Little Man Murders
- Murder from Three Angles
- Red Stain
- Suspicious Stains
- Two Dead
- Whose Hand
I don’t want to damn the author on one book. Any Vernon Loder fans want to suggest another?
There was to be a special display of fancy-dress ball costumes at London’s newest mammoth shop, and at nine o’clock on the Monday morning a crowd waited for the curtains to go up. An immense window had been furnished for the occasion. Wax figures, poised in the motions of the dance, stood within. Then a cry of horror rose from the crowd. Some one fainted. A man ran for the police. Two figures in fancy-dress were not of wax, but of flesh and blood – though now dead and cold. One was the proprietor of the shop, the other a fascinating employee. Murder and suicide, or murder only? Who could tell? Scotland Yard found the answer, but not without infinite pains. A dozen unloosed knots were succeeded by others even more tightly tied, intrigues were disclosed, and secrets revealed in more than one unsuspected quarter, before the clever inspector on the case could whisper Eureka. Jealousy figures in this story; jealousy and fear and panic; and the fascination of a younger man for an elderly woman. Any one of the passions might have furnished a motive for the crime. Which was it?
1930 Morrow (US)
It was early Monday morning, and the crowds were hurrying past Mander’s great store. As the blinds covering the huge plate glass windows were raised, many of the passers-by stopped to look – for Mander’s special Monday window displays were famous. On this day, the great window was decorated as a ball-room, with a fancy dress ball in progress.
Suddenly there was a gasp of horror from a man in the crowd, for there amid the wax figures was a human corpse. It was Mander himself, and a few minutes later a second victim was found, a very beautiful girl employee of the store.
With this striking scene, Vernon Loder starts off into a baffling, thrilling tale. Was it murder and suicide, double murder, or what? The manager, who was secretly engaged to the dead woman was involved; so too was the head of the aeroplane department. And what of the elderly woman who had fallen in love with Mander and financed him? And her son, who had viewed with disfavour the prospect of his mother wasting the inheritance which should have been his on the upstart merchant, what was he doing behind the store on the night before?
This is the best mystery tale that Vernon Loder has ever written.
Times Literary Supplement (31st July 1930): Inspired by artful paragraphs in the Sunday papers, a crowd of spectators gathered at five minutes to nine one Monday morning outside the principal window of the chief bay of Mander’s Stores in Gaffikin-street, waiting for the great blinds to be drawn on the marvellous selection of wax figures attired in fancy dress (“carried out by British workers, in British materials, by British designers”) that were arranged realistically on the floor of a modern ballroom. Then, as the hour struck, a man inside set in motion the mechanism. And then, or a very few moments later, a cry of horror broke from the crowd, for no less a personage than Mr. Tobias Mander, the proprietor of the stores, stone-dead and dressed in blue overalls, figured in the foreground. A scene of great commotion followed. The police were summoned, and the blinds came down with a rush, blotting out every trace of the tragedy from the public view. Nor was the tale complete even then. For no sooner had the blinds been drawn than another victim was discovered, this time a young woman who had at first escaped notice, seated as she was in a chair at the back of the ballroom. The young woman was identified as Miss Effie Tumour, chief buyer in the millinery department of the stores. The man had been shot, and the woman had been stabbed in the back with some thin-bladed, pointed weapon. The investigation of the tragic mystery fell to Inspector Devenish, and his painstaking methods proved ultimately successful. A decidedly ingenious story.