First published: UK, Collins, 1926; US, Macmillan, 1926
“Murders do break up a house-party… It doesn’t seem worth one’s while to try and do anything pleasant.”
The Coles’ third novel shows their unexpected gift for comedy. We have a body in the library, naked and eccentric noblemen (with more than a touch of Lord Emsworth about Lord B.), fabulous jewels and equally fantastic spies, and a general air of conspiracy. Even though the solution is (deliberately) a fizzle, the reader doesn’t mind, as the book is lively, fresh and fast-moving. Wilson covers the business up at the end (probably to spite Lord Ealing, who is now Prime Minister).
Dick Prescot, returning from his morning bathe at Blatchington Towers, finds a total stranger dead in the library, a revolver tied tightly into his hand with a piece of green string. Subsequently, it is discovered that the dead man had a profound interest in gaining possession of the world-famous Blatchington rubies, and that on the very night he was murdered an attempt was made to steal the rubies from Lady Blatchington’s safe. Armed with these clues, Prescot attempts to solve the mystery by a study of the house-party, many of whom were behaving in a very suspicious manner; but finds his sympathies engaged with the very persons he had most reason to suspect. The imminent arrest of the most popular member of the party leads to the summoning of Mr. Wilson, the great detective, and he, after an exciting evening, succeeds in explaining both the murder and the burglary. The action of the story takes place within a single day, and the reader’s attention is never allowed to flag for an instant.
When Dick Prescot went down one Saturday to Blatchington Towers for a week-end visit he had no suspicion that he would find himself entangled in a murder mystery next morning. But as he walked through the library before breakfast intending to take a dip in the pool, he stumbled over a man’s dead body, lying by the French window with a revolver tied to his wrist by a green cord. Filled with horror, he stepped out into the garden, and met Lord Blatchington returning from the pool, carrying his evening clothes over one arm. After it was discovered that during the night an attempt had been made to steal the famous Blatchington rubies, complications followed thick and fast. One of Dick’s fellow guests, who was suspected of the murder, employed the great detective Wilson, formerly superintendent at Scotland Yard, to prove his innocence, and Wilson’s search for the burglar and the murderer led him through a tangle whose unwinding makes a most engrossing tale.
The reader’s sympathy is fully enlisted by honest Dick Prescot, young Roberts, who is under suspicion by the police, and his high-spirited fiancée, Hermione.
Times Literary Supplement (16th December 1926):
When the hero is surprised in his early-morning discovery of the corpse of the loathly financier in the library window by Lord Blatchington, a naked nobleman who is carrying his evening clothes over his arm, it is obvious that the story is going to be unusual. This is borne out by the events of the next few hours, for the whole of the action is compressed into a single day. The authors have built their story on what is really not a very complicated plot, but as almost every character on whom suspicion could reasonably fall lies with a most convincing mendacity the reader is hard put to form an opinion, and even the yawning detective is baffled for several chapters. The characterisation is clever and much of the dialogue amusing; the administrative achievement of the nobleman and the means whereby he acquired the mystic rubies which are the cause of all the trouble are sardonically described, and the tangle is only straightened out by the ingenious intervention of Mr. Wilson, now retired from Scotland Yard.
Boston Transcript (10th November 1926, 230w):
An unusual and ably written detective story.
New Statesman (27th November 1926, 150w):
The fact that its characters are genuinely alive and individual is a singular merit in a book of this kind.
Sat R of Lit (27th November 1926, 150w):
In their latest novel the Cole partners seem to have fallen far below the standard of that surpassing good detective story, The Death of a Millionaire, which they published last year. Their present production contains many of the faults common to the rank and file of mystery yarns, and few stronger elements.