A Minor Operation (J. J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1937; US, Little, Brown, 1937

Blurb (UK)

Connington - A Minor Operation.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Early one morning the police were summoned to the house occupied by Mrs. Deerhurst.  They found that the house had apparently been ransacked; there was blood on the floor of one room; and Mrs. Deerhurst had vanished.  In searching the premises the Inspector came upon a curious little machine, the like of which he had never seen before.


Further investigations disclosed that Mrs. Deerhurst had been in possession of bearer bonds of considerable value, but no trace of them could be found.  It also transpired that two of her near relations had been sentenced for fraud.

Finding his subordinates rather at sea, Sir Clinton Driffield takes a hand in the case.  With the help of his friend, Wendover, he clears up the mystery of the machine and thus finds a second trail.  Meanwhile, however, a motor accident in another part of the country opens up a fresh line of evidence; an artist is found to have changed his style; and a telegram is discovered bearing on the problem.  It is only when all these lines converge that the mystery is solved.

Blurb (US)

Connington - A Minor Operation US
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

There was blood on the drawing-room floor and Hazel Deerhurst had disappeared – disappeared apparently wearing slippers over walking shoes, two pairs of stockings and a bright silk kimono.  First investigation shed interesting light on Hazel.  There were blots on her family escutcheon, at least one of them put there by her husband.  She was also secretary to a man whose secrets involved the future of the empire.  Was she victim or villainess?


My review

Connington was a mathematician and a physicist (not disciplines renowned for human sympathy) and set his stories amongst the county and country house set, but, at his best, his characters are interesting both as themselves and as suspects, and he is one of the few writers who can make the actual business of detection – the collection of baffling clues (an electric clock 3 hours 44 minutes slow, a Braille typewriter, a pile of red lead and stolen bearer bonds) – engrossing.  A Minor Operation is very good Connington indeed. It lacks the complexity of The Case with Nine Solutions or the flamboyant ingenuity of Jack-in-the-Box, but it is a good detective story. Unlike most detective stories, the murderer is not obvious before page 50 and is well-hidden until Sir Clinton Driffield arrests him. Well-written, baffling, ingenious and interesting throughout.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Simon Harcourt Nowell Smith, 27th February 1937):

Sir Clinton Driffield solves another mystery in his mysterious way.  He has a way of keeping quiet about his deductions that is irritating to associates on the wrong track, but very satisfying to the reader, if the reader is quick enough to follow the same lines of thought.

In this case—a disappearance, a burglary and a murder, with three “ticket-of-leave” men involved—the reader is treated to exactly the right mixture of mystification and clue.  The character-drawing is above the average—particularly Nicholas Adeney, released from prison after serving a sentence for a crime in which he was merely a tool (or a fool), determined against odds to make good but embittered and insolent against the police.


Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 16th March 1937):

When a released convict is murdered and bloodstains are found in the house of the wife who feared and dreaded his return, and when she herself has vanished “without a trace”, a very pretty problem is presented.  It is the position with which in Mr. J. J. Connington’s A Minor Operation Sir Clinton Driffield finds himself faced.  The wife’s brother, himself a released convict, is plainly lying, there is another ex-convict in the vicinity, the puzzle seems complete.  One by one, however, various small points emerge, and it is Mr. Connington’s high merit as a writer of detective novels that each one of these clues is fairly presented for the reader to draw from it, if he can and will, the conclusions that afterwards prove correct when each small detail fits neatly into its place in the completed pattern.


Observer (Torquemada, 28th March 1937):

J. J. Connington now favours us at such long intervals that a book from his pen is apt to come in for more searching criticism than the works of the fluent. In A Minor Operation that model Chief Constable, Sir Clinton Driffield, and the Squire solve a problem which is notable chiefly for the paucity of suspects. Even so, it is not easy for the reader to achieve more than an inspired guess; for Mr. Connington, while confusing the trail with his accustomed ingenuity, fails until almost the end to give us any clue—except, of course, the obvious and misleading one—staunch enough to build a theory upon.  He scores, as always, with his clearly visualised characters.  For what it is worth, I found this book more interesting at the second reading, which I felt compelled to give it, than at the first.


Books (Will Cuppy, 13th June 1937, 170w):

A trifle slowish at first, this British item soon grips you, then gathers speed and gallops in a winner.


NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 13th June 1937, 240w):

Sir Clinton Driffield is an exception to the rule, so far as English mystery stories go, that county chief constables are usually hopelessly beyond their depths when confronted with a crime that is the least bit out of the ordinary.  If you have not previously met him in Mr. Connington’s other novels, this is a good time to make his acquaintance, for in this book you will see him at his best.


Sat R of Lit (19th June 1937, 40w):

Less action than other Driffield tales, but intricately plotted with acute deducing and neat bit of scientific sleuthing at end.  Medium.


Chicago Daily Tribune (C.L., 28th August 1937, 80w):

This mystery intrigues, but the reader wishes it might move a little faster.


Birmingham Post:

Mr. Connington is here at his best…his character drawing is always good, and he always plays the game.