The Tall House Mystery (A. Fielding)

  • By A. Fielding
  • First published: UK: Collins, 1933; US: Kinsey, 1933

Half a dozen young people rent a house in Chelsea; two of them – mathematician Ingram and wealthy Haliburton – are in love with winsome Winnie Dean. The talk turns to ghosts; Ingram’s flat-mate Gilmour warns any practical joker that he’ll shoot at anyone who dresses up in a sheet and wanders the corridors moaning.

That night, Gilmour shoots Ingram dead; the mathematician had, it seemed, uncharacteristically decided to play at hauntings. But Gilmour was adamant his gun only contained blanks. How, then, did the gun come to contain a real bullet? And was Ingram’s shot really the fatal one?

This is the best detective story I’ve read by Fielding: a lively, often clever tale. (Noah Stewart’s positive review alerted me to this one.) Fielding juggles motives skilfully, including romantic rivalry and infallible gambling systems (Chief Inspector Pointer gets to live it up at Monte Carlo), and Ingram’s secret is well concealed. There are buried bodies and impersonation, and one plot twist anticipates a better-known story. And at least one character is more than cardboard. I’ve met several girls like the enigmatic, hard-nosed Alfreda Longstaff, eager for a journalistic scoop; women journalists tend to be more bolshie than us men. Fielding might merit further investigation.

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