- By A. Fielding
- First published: UK: Collins, 1925; US: Alfred A. Knopf
“A. Fielding” (real name unknown) wrote twenty-five conventional detective stories, most featuring her policeman sleuth Chief Inspector Pointer. She was an uneven writer: Barzun and Taylor read two, and liked neither; Curt Evans finds her frustrating: while her books offer the substance of detective fiction, her plotting is too often sloppy, violating plausibility and fair play. J.F. Norris, however, considers her an unsung master of misdirection, and the late Noah Stewart enjoyed The Tall House Mystery (my review coming soon). Many of her books are available from Gutenberg Australia. (See also the overview of her books on Ontos.)
The Charteris Mystery is Fielding’s second novel; it’s a rather confusingly written shaggy dog story, showing that “frustrating” mixture of sloppiness and ingenuity Evans complained about. Rose Charteris is found dead in a sand-pit; the local doctor says it was accident, but Chief Inspector Pointer (incognito, summoned by a suspect) proves she was killed elsewhere, then thrown into the pit. Does this have any connection with the disappearance in Italy of her father, a famous scholar?
The opening chapter throws us into the midst of conversation among characters we don’t know; who they are isn’t explained. Other characters (Lady Maxwell) turn out to have been staying there too, but aren’t mentioned until well after the murder. Halfway through, the story shifts gears to become an adventure thriller. Pointer comes into possession of the MacGuffin (a paper in cipher giving the name of all the chief Bolshevik agents in Europe), and several attempts are made to kill him. Some of the scenes are excellent – notably the visit to the Ladins in northern Italy – but they don’t make an organic whole. The murderer (the British agent for distribution of Bolshevik funds) is wholly unsuspected, but it’s difficult to see how the reader could arrive at the conclusion Pointer does.
Fielding’s enthusiasm for Mussolini’s Fascists might raise an eyebrow, too: “Taken as a whole, a finer-looking lot of young men [Pointer] had never seen, nor was likely to see. They were here not to serve self-interest. In this world where money rules, they bent the knee to something higher. It was as though there swept through that crowded room a spirit from the realm of idealism and passionate selflessness. Pointer could almost hear the beating of its wings. He saw again the Thousand Heroes of Garibaldi rallying to its cal. For Pointer knew the Italy of immediately after the Great War. The Chief Inspector had spoken with those who had seen men flung shrieking into their own blast furnaces at Turin amid Communist cheers. He had been present in Bologna when a partially disabled officer had had his uniform cut off him with knives that streaked the rags with his blood…”
Times Literary Supplement (8th October 1925): A pretty girl is found dead in a sandpit and it appears that she did not get there by accident—but, if she has been murdered, why and by whom? The author provides a fine mystery and is by no means content to rely upon his English string to make music as he packs characters off to Italy in search of proofs, and provides two of them with an uneasy journey interrupted and diversified with really harrowing episodes ingeniously contrived by the Bolshevists, who are trying to recover an all-important document. Inspector Pointer, after keeping his own chiefs rather in the dark, springs a surprise on the reader and a good many of the characters at the end, and by his handling of an intricate case, taken up almost by way of amusement on a police equivalent of a ’busman’s holiday, does much to enhance the reputation he made over the Eames-Erskine case.
New York Sun: From the moment when the beautiful Rose Charteris is found murdered in a sand pit near her father’s country estate, Chief Inspector Pointer of Scotland Yard and the reader share in common the bewildering mas of unanswerable questions which are linked to her death. Pointer is a sleuth in the true Sherlock Holmes tradition, and his methods, as well as the case on which he here employs them, have rarely been surpassed for ingenuity by even Conan Doyle at his long-ago best.