First published: UK, 1934; US, Doubleday Doran, 1934
Very good – the plot is relatively easy to work out, but it’s elaborate and well constructed, and abounds in humorous grotesques (including a spoof of the Rev. Montague Summers).
MURDER OF AN ARMAMENTS KING!
We are almost tempted to call this, C. St. John Sprigg’s first book on our list, the perfect detective story of the almost perfect crime. Certainly Mr. Sprigg possesses the qualities that go to make up an engrossing novel of murder—ingenious plot, action, suspense, humour, and uniquely interesting characters.
Antony Mullins, armaments “king”, is found dead in a blazing garage, a bullet through his skull.
WHO MURDERED HIM?
Ralph Holliday? He had been seen with the dead man’s lovely wife. But Holliday had a perfect alibi. Lord Overture, who loved to take pot-shots at policemen—
Sandra Delfinage, so fond of horses—eccentric old Mrs. Murples, trainer of prize-fighters—hot-headed Francis FIlson, whose morals were as loose as his drawings—
Dr. Eustace Marabout, believer in black magic and werewolves—Dr. Constant, the congenial scientist—which one was the murderer? They all had perfect alibis!
Only when Charles Venables, the Mercury’s clever crime reporter, comes to the aid of the baffled police do they reach out after an ingeniously diabolical killer, who not only provided an alibi for himself, but an alibi also for the man who was murdered!
Here perhaps is that “different” mystery story you’ve been looking for!
Times Literary Supplement (16th August 1934, 220w)
Sat R of Lit (8th December 1934, 40w):
Layout of slightly insane suspects, handled in high good humour, adds to zest of unusually puzzling plot.
NY Times (9th December 1934, 220w):
The alibi is, of course, not quite perfect, but it is as near it as any alibi could be that does not forever succeed in its purpose… The case is so complicated that it requires the combined efforts of a horsey young woman, a local police constable and a brilliant young journalist to solve the mystery.
Books (Will Cuppy, 16th December 1934, 210w):
We were all ready to sneer at Mastermind for being ‘almost tempted to call this … the perfect detective story of the almost perfect crime’, but there’s something in what he says. ‘Perfect’ is a word to use with caution, so we’ll merely state that Mr. Sprigg’s book is very good and certainly the best we’ve come across in the dwindling pre-Christmas heap.
A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989):
The plot is tenable and some of the characters are well done, but too many pages are cluttered with details that give an air of unreality to the whole.