- By Lynn Brock
- First published: UK: Collins, 1928; US: Harpers, 1928
Colonel Gore solves a cold case, almost a year after the murder. Sir William Ireland, wealthy colliery and foundry owner, was stabbed in his train compartment on a cold October night. Also onboard were his wife, whom he intended to disinherit; Captain Ingoldsby, who loved his wife; and the estate manager Theobald, who was going to lose his job for drunkenness. The Home Office call in Colonel Gore (now a successful private investigator); he goes undercover as an estate manager, and finds himself investigating adultery and drug smuggling.
Brock’s novel seems to be the model for J.J. Connington’s Two Tickets Puzzle and Philip MacDonald’s Maze. Almost the first half is transcripts of police interviews – a monotonous, seemingly interminable device. Particularly the questions about train tickets. Brock was a much better stylist and psychologist than the other Humdrums; this approach prevents him from using his gifts. Most of these witness reports could be summarised; if nothing else, it makes one appreciate Freeman Wills Crofts’s succinctness.
Do persist, however, for much of the rest of the book is rather good. The Colonel is by no means a Blimp, and as military sleuths go, he’s far more affable than MacDonald’s Gethryn. The pace is tight, the prose distinguished and even lyrical, and Brock has a nice line in dry wit. The murderer is wholly unexpected – but the reader has no chance to predict the killer. The main clue is one of those handy letters left for detectives to find under beds when the dénouement nears.
This, the successor to The Deductions of Colonel Gore, Colonel Gore’s Second Case, and The Kink, is the fourth volume of the series which, both in this country and in America, has achieved an enormous popularity. The mystery which Colonel Gore solves in this case, and the manner of its solution, is presented by an original method which lends to the book a sinister and arresting vividness. As always, Mr. Brock’s character-drawing is unhesitating and masterly, his impressions of certain aspects of post-war Society in England unflinchingly true to fact.
Into the hands of the capable Colonel Gore is put the testimonial evidence collected at the inquest of an appalling crime – contradictory, puzzling documents that cast smirching shadows of suspicion on five people ranging from the chauffeur to the very wife of the murdered man. No possible solution, apparently, to this tangle of lies, strong motives, and violent feelings. How Colonel Gore proceeds to handle the case, with his analytical powers keyed to the keenest, deducing, observing, reasoning – quick in action, sound in judgement – makes a story that fixes one’s interest with an intensity that never relaxes until the final curtain. Horror and thrills – likable characters – English gentry at Shenstone Castle – the haunting sense of crime and tragedy – all these are wielded together in a tale that is a real mystifying mystery, a “shocker” charged with electric sparks.
Times Literary Supplement (29th June 1928): Mr. Lynn Brock has chosen as the stage for his fourth Colonel Gore case a railway siding and a slip-carriage. It is a conveniently accessible place for a murder and the victim is a very murderable person. The story is constructed on one of the commonest of all formulas for detective stories, the assembling of a considerable number of people at the site of the murder, each of whom is equipped with an adequate motive. The reader has first to read half a volume of witnesses’ statements, a task that ought not to be imposed unless the later development is going to turn on fine points in the evidence. In this story it does not do so, the tale becomes one of action and Colonel Gore could have been let loose on his investigations and dangers, without prejudice to his final success, without as much testimony. The multiplication of false leads at the beginning is carried a little too far, and the story is at its best when the movement is greatest as it approaches and reaches its end.
A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): Col. Gore’s fourth case, and a disappointing reversion to the complexities of style and action which characterised his second, and which were toned down considerably in The Kink. The railway setting is well handled, though the very poor diagram of the railway junction and yard in the American edition looks like the work of Harper’s office boy. Gore reads testimony and watches people, then waits for things to develop—namely, a bump on his head. Little, if any, detection.