First published: UK, Collins, 1936; US, Doubleday, 1936
This story reintroduces the Coles’ readers to several familiar characters. Here is the detective, Dr. Benjamin Tancred, twenty-five years older than when we last met him in Dr. Tancred Begins. Here is that extraordinary religious fanatic, Sarah Pendexter, and her nephew, Rupert Pendexter, who so narrowly escaped hanging in the earlier story. Here is his sister, Helen Pendexter, now Viscountess St. Blaizey, deeply involved in the mystery surrounding old Lord St. Blaizey’s death. That is only one of the three mysteries that go to make up this tangled tale. Together with two no less intricate—Was the St. Blaizey will a forgery? and who killed Sidney Galloway?—it is resolved at last by Dr. Tancred’s unflagging persistence and insight, and his greatest case is brought to a triumphant end in which the claims of justice are finally satisfied.
To the many readers who have inquired about the Pendexters, introduced in Dr. Tancred Begins, we are glad to present this closing chapter of the strange Pendexter Saga.
Lord St. Blaizey, wealthy and elderly, is killed by a fall from his horse, but there are evidences to show that he was struck before he fell. His son is married to Helen Pendexter, sister of Rupert Pendexter, whom Dr. Tancred was never able to prove guilty of the murder of his step-father twenty-five years previously. Dr. Tancred is called into the case by old Sarah Pendexter, more than half mad, religious fanatic, and insanely vindictive against her step-nephew, Rupert, whom she declares to be the old Lord’s murderer. Dr. Tancred finds, on arriving in Cornwall, that there is nothing to connect Rupert with the murder, but there are several odd things that need explaining: such as Helen’s insistence that it was an accident, in the face of proof of murder; the fact that the stableman has disappeared; the question of which one of the Galloways has caused young Lord St. Blaizey to threaten to divorce his wife; and who were the dark man on a horse and the fair young man who met him, that the tramp saw on the morning of the murder?
The case, almost at a dead end for lack of evidence, is jarred into life again by the discovery of a second murdered body and things begin to clear, as link after link is secured in the chain that will hang a man for three murders, one of them a quarter of a century old.
Undoubtedly humdrum Cole. The plot involves the “riding accident” which claims the death of Augustus St. Blaizey, whose assistant, his daughter-in-law’s brother, is the accused murderer of Dr. Tancred Begins. The crime is fairly dull, and the detection by means of Ordnance Maps and routine alibi-checking is standard Croftsian boredom, though there are elements of Freeman in the forged will and the means of its detection. The characters range from well-depicted eccentrics (the religious maniac Sarah, Chief Inspector Falcon) to sticks (the latter predominates). There also exists a most exasperating tramp, who serves two purposes: firstly, to tell a true story, then to say that the truth was rubbish and spin a new yarn, and finally to reveal the truth again, thereby rendering life more difficult for the police; and secondly, to raise questions about the dole and unemployment. Where is the ingenuity of The Death of a Millionaire, The Man from the River, or Dead Man’s Watch?
New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 1st August 1936):
Last Will and Testament is the sequel to Dr. Tancred Begins. There is another crime for Dr. Tancred to solve, but we are familiar with the criminal from the start, the only mystery lying in the method of perpetration. I can’t see what is the point of such a book. The authors themselves cannot decide whether to assume their readers have read the earlier volume or to pretend they have not. Could the Coles possibly be persuaded to join Mr. Queen for a long drink at Half Way House?
Observer (Torquemada, 2nd August 1936):
Is it the magic of the place-names which makes it so difficult to write a dull book about Cornwall? Mr. and Mrs. Cole do not, of course, write dull books; but, to those of their admirers who felt not long ago that they were getting a little faded, Dr. Tancred Begins came as a welcome surprise. We are now given the complementary volume of the Pendexter Saga, and if it lacks the freshness and youth of its predecessor, and if Dr. Tancred seems hardly to deserve the praise lavished on him by his Achates, Last Will and Testament is a very readable holiday book. Tancred, though hard-working and conscientious, seems to me in no way superior to Wilson, while his position as a private sleuth is ambiguous and not wholly sympathetic. I am sorry that Lady St. Blaizey—you remember Helen Pendexter?—does not wear very well. The plot is carefully worked out, and the various complication of times and movements will be found consistent; Mr. and Mrs. Cole never fail us in such matters.
Spectator (Nicholas Blake, 25th September 1936):
Mr. and Mrs. Cole in their new book conclude the Pendexter saga. Twenty-five years ago Dr. Tancred had investigated the murder of Simon Pendexter. He had found the murderer, but had been unable to prove his guilt. Now Lord St. Blazey, head of an old Cornish family and big-businessman, is found dead—apparently as a result of a riding accident. Dr. Tancred is called in by an old lady who claims to have had a vision in which she saw Lord St. Blazey murdered: he soon discovers material evidence to support this, and we are left in little doubt that the murderer of Lord St. Blazey is the man who killed Simon Pendexter twenty-five years before. Our knowledge of the criminal’s identity, however, in no way spoils this very competent and readable tale. The Coles are adepts at suggesting character with a few strokes of the brush; their present narrative, if a little repetitive in parts, is most attractive in its quiet, leisurely way.
NY Times (Kay Irvin, 25th October 1936, 370w):
Although this novel holds the reader’s interest throughout, it is less by the agency of puzzle than by the construction and detailed development of its plot and the human quality of its characterisation.
Books (Will Cuppy, 1st November 1936, 220w):
If you’ll plough thoughtfully through the family relationships at the start you’ll come upon as impressive a web of bafflement as the Coles have ever spun. We were particularly pleased with Dr. Tancred’s honest and fundamental brainwork, especially where he sums up the evidence toward the end in masterly style. There’s a third murder and a triple solution by Dr. Tancred, with a swell Cornish background.