By A.E.W. Mason
First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1946
Enter Bryan Devisher, over the side of the ketch in which Mordaunt was taking Mr. Julius Ricardo home to London on the summons of his old friend, Inspector Hanaud of the Paris Sûreté and the English ‘idioms’. Exit, Devisher and Mordaunt. Enter Daniel Horbury. Exit Daniel Horbury – violently, with his throat slit in the garden room of the House in Lordship Lane, with Olivia, his wife, locked in her bedroom upstairs. Enter Septimus Crottle, patriarchal, tough old shipowner; and the Crottle family, at a Sunday evening ‘reading’ attended by Hanaud and Ricardo. Re-enter Mordaunt and Devisher – in Cairo. Exit Septimus Crottle, mysteriously; re-enter Hanaud, hurriedly; re-enter Septimus, with all the toughness gone. But the house in Lordship Lane has never gone out of the story, and the master-craftsman brings us back to it at the end. And, when you read what really had happened in the garden room that night when Olivia drove her husband down to Lordship Lane, you remember the ejaculation of one of A.E.W. Mason’s reviewers: ‘What a work of art a thriller can be!’
Although written at the age of eighty, a time when authors generally become senile, this, Mason’s last novel, is one of his stronger ones. It opens in a sinister fashion with a man with chain-marks on his leg falling off a South American boat and continues with the “suicide” of Daniel Horbury, a villainous MP – which, of course, turns out to be murder. Suspicion falls on his wife and on the old lag who fell off the boat, but is the murder domestic, committed by his wife’s lover, or is it connected with big business and German-sponsored drug-trafficking in Egypt? New mysteries are introduced and developments unfold over the course of a long book, the scope of which allows Mason to take the reader to Egypt and introduce several sharp portraits, notably Mrs Horbury and Mrs Leete, two of those strong women whom Mason specialised in. Unfortunately, the complexity of the story and its enjoyableness build up the reader’s expectations for a fine finish, but the identity of the murderer (whom the reader knows must be one of two people) and his motive, although recounted at length in one of Mason’s standard confessions, are disappointing, largely because the solution isn’t reached by detection so much as by an incriminating document, a device which was fine in the 1910s but is hard to forgive in 1946 at the end of an otherwise excellent story.
Manchester Guardian (J.D. Beresford, 12th April 1946):
Mr. A.E.W. Mason is one of the gallant band of octogenarian novelists (I could name three others) who are demonstrating that the writer’s intellectual powers do not weaken with age. In The House in Lordship Lane he has given us an intricate and well-woven pattern of crime, beginning with a murder and later involving an international complication in connection with the sale of drugs in Egypt, which keeps the reader on his toes until the mystery is solved. He might, perhaps, be accused of having taken too easy and unconvincing a way out in the matter of the final confession and suicide of the chief criminal, but that may be forgiven for the sake of the delightfully suave and accomplished literary style that makes the story so readable.
Times Literary Supplement (R.D. Charques, 20th April 1946):
It is more than fifty years since Mr. Mason produced his first novel, and it is not so very much less since he first introduced Inspector Hanaud of the Paris Sûreté. Here he is once more—as large as life, one cannot resist saying, and twice as natural—clad, after a Channel crossing, in “a rough suit of bright yellow, football stockings, and mountaineering boots”, and with all his nonchalant anglicisms of speech about him. There is the delicate-minded Mr. Ricardo of Grosvenor Square also; there is a young man with the mark of fetters deeply etched on his ankles who fell overboard from a steamer of sinister reputation; there is the crotchety old Septimus Crottle; there is Daniel Horbury, a shady financier and an all but shady member of Parliament, who was found with his throat cut in the pleasant white villa in Lordship Lane.
Mr. Mason takes everything in his stride—Hanaud, Mr. Ricardo of Grosvenor Square, Superintendent Maltby, all the involutions of the mystery of Horbury’s murder, the functions of the coastguard directorate in Egypt, the Crottle history. It is a tale on well-tried lines, but ingenious, entertaining and, as one would expect, well told.