Death at Swaythling Court (J.J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Ernest Benn, 1926


Blurb (US reprint)

Connington - Death at Swaythling Court.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Hubbard made his money as blackmail, most detestable blackmail at that.  A loathsome creature, there were no special regrets when he was found dead at his desk in his own home.  Yet Colonel Sanderstead felt it his duty to probe the affair, since his nephew’s best friends had very good reason to wish Hubbard dead and might easily enough be involved.

 

A ghost appears in the village, motor car tracks confuse the issue, and altogether the evidence is so varied and contrary that it is not surprising the Colonel makes a few mistakes.  His investigation, as it turns out, would never have solved the case, but it leads to an amazing confession which clears up the mystery of the DEATH AT SWAYTHLING COURT.


My review

Considering this is Connington’s first novel, it’s quite an achievement.  The murder of the blackmailing butterfly-collector Hubbard is the centre of a well constructed, elaborately clued mystery with an ingenious plot.  There’s little successful detection; Colonel Sanderstead (a pukka sahib chap like Wendover) is, as he admits, more successful as a ‘collector of facts’ than as a ‘theorist or detective’, and the criminals confess to him in private at the end.  I worked out most of the plot, suspecting one culprit because of his rôle in the story, and another because of some rather obvious clues (the “Invisible Man” is rather clumsily handled).

In some ways, this anticipates Carr: a very good investigation of the murder scene which turns up lots of clues; and a detective novelist who halfway through provides an ingenious but wrong theory based on circumstantial evidence (c.f. To Wake the Dead).

Connington’s prose throughout is brisk, cheerful and to the point.

  • Is Hubbard a Jew—lith-ping out-thider?
  • Investigation of bike and car trails, typewriters—physical clues of the sort found in later books.
  • Rival detectives Colonel and nephew—c.f. Driffield and Wendover.
  • SPOILER Murderers get away with it: Nemesis at Raynham Parva.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (1st April 1926):

Mr. Connington claims, with some justification, that in this detective story his readers “have a full knowledge of every essential fact before they reach the last chapter”; nevertheless the secret of the murder of Mr. Hubbard, of Swaythling Court, is no nearer discovery until that chapter is reached.  Hubbard is a newcomer to Fernhurst Parva and is cordially disliked by the entire community.  He collects butterflies, and is by profession a blackmailer.  He is killed mysteriously on the night following an inspection of a “death-ray” apparatus invented by Jimmy Leigh, who disappears after the murder.  That may be the first clue.  Jimmy’s sister, Stella Hilton, who is divorcing her very unpleasant husband, has a revolver which is found at Swathling Court after the murder.  And that is another clue.  Hilton visited Hubbard on the evening of his death and there were high words, and another clue is provided.  There is a “crook” butler and a village half-wit who is fond of butterflies, and one has disappeared from Hubbard’s collection.  A ghost is found in the village.  Motor-car tracks further confuse the issue.  Thus is the mystification increased.  The intricate tale is well told.

 

The London Daily Express:

Worthy to be ranked with ‘Trent’s Last Case’, ‘The Villa Rose’ and ‘The Sherlock Saga’.

 

 

Spectator (20th March 1926, 80w):

Distinctly worth reading.  It may be said that the accomplished student of detective stories will quickly suspect that two of the subsidiary characters introduced early in the book will provide a solution of, at any rate, the minor portion of the mystery.

 

Lit R (J. Hawk, 2nd October 1926, 380w):

If it is, as I presume, a first book, much pleasure should be in store for detective fans in the future if Mr. Connington lives up to the standard set in it.

 

Town and Country:

A singularly effective book.  The characters are well-bred people of inimitable savoir faire.  The book is written in a crisp and harmonious manner, and the end is entirely unexpected.