First published: UK, Benn, 1933; US, Houghton, 1934
‘What is distinction?’ demanded Dorothy L. Sayers in her review of this tale. We can but agree with her that this tale is a shining example. As a detective story, it is of the first water: the situation surrounding the murder of the financier is as complicated as classic Carr, and, like that genius writer, uses the recurring motif of the bizarre clue: tickets to a production of Hamlet. If the reader interprets that clue correctly – as he most probably will – he will soon know the identity, the motive and the method. Yet this makes the story all the more interesting, for one of Punshon’s greatest gifts is his understanding of human psychology, his keen insight into the characters of those under pressure, so that we come to understand the horrible significance of Shakespeare’s masterpiece for the murderer. As the book darkens in atmosphere still further toward the end, and a second, utterly surprising crime is committed, we worry whether the tragedy of Laertes has been added to that of the Danish prince, but soon understand that the truth is far different, and, despite the layers of complexity, beautifully logical and coherent.
Times Literary Supplement (29th June 1933):
This is a crime novel, for it contains two murders, a suicide, a burglary and an embezzlement on an extensive scale with another murder outside the story. Also it presents a superintendent of police with a sense of humour and some sagacity and a police-constable with a university education. The problem offered for solution ought not to be difficult to guess, in spite of the wide choice of possible criminals, ranging from a man who ran straight down the field at Cardiff to a defaulting solicitor. But probably Mr. Punshon, when he wrote his book, attached less importance to his own very considerable ingenuities than to the character and motives of the person by whom the leading murder is committed. He has founded his story on a classical precedent. And, under the guise of a thriller, he has attempted a tragedy. The detective part of the novel is a complete success. And there is so much intensity in the criminal that we are almost persuaded that the psychology is right—almost, but not quite; for the strength of purpose which moves and sustains the chief personage springs from too weak a stock. However this may be, the plot is unusual and well-managed, the dialogue is deft, and the general effect pleasing.
New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 14th October 1933):
Mr. Punshon’s latest is not one of his best. He is not as happy with his new detective, a young police constable educated at Oxford, as he used to be with Inspector Carter and Sergeant Bell; the young man may use his wits effectively, but he is not so far very bright in dialogue. The solving of the murder of a business—Big Business—man in his billiards-room in North London is protracted by a very obvious, and therefore not very imsleading, cross-trail; and there is besides one of those horrid demands on the reader’s tolerance or fatuity in Mr. Punshon’s explanation of how the deed was carried out. It would not, however, be wise for the voracious detective reader to miss out Information Received from his library list, for if he goes further he is likely to fare worse.
The Saturday Review (24 February 1934):
Talkative Inspector Mitchell and Constable Bobby Owen more or less stumble on murder of English nobleman. Lot of rather footless chasing around after clues redeemed by interesting people and humorous bits. Middling.