The Case with Nine Solutions (J.J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Gollancz, 1928; US, Little Brown, 1929

My review

In this early Connington (his sixth), Sir Clinton Driffield is at the very peak of his form — acerbic, sardonic and cynical — as he investigates four murders (beginning with that of an egomaniacal would-be rapist, who gets nothing less than his just desserts), which he reconstructs most ingeniously, and complicated by the clever code letters sent by “Mr. Justice.” Although the Nine Solutions themselves are disappointing, being only the mathematical permutations and combinations of the crimes, everything else about the book is of the highest order. In a complex plot, the author has a firm grasp on all the threads: the choice of red herrings, clues, motives and suspects is excellent; and every page teems with good ideas, including some highly ingenious scientific dodges. Only the final solution (Excerpts from Sir Clinton’s Notebook) seems a bit long — methinks the author doth protest too much.

Blurb (UK)

This novel will be found as intriguing as its masterly title.

A number of deaths occur; and in quite an early chapter the exposition is finished and the record of crime almost complete.  In that chapter nine different solutions are propounded; and the remaining chapters are occupied, amid every circumstance (not only of intellectual but also of physical excitement) with the elimination of the eight erroneous solutions, until the right solution is finally achieved.

This is a masterpiece of detective architecture.

Blurb (US)

As a writer of detective stories, the distinguished Irishman who signs himself “J. J. Connington” has rapidly arrived in the first rank.  “The Case with Nine Solutions” is as intriguing as its title promises.   Early in the book a number of deaths occur, and by the sixth chapter the exposition is finished and the record of crime almost complete.  Nine different solutions are propounded and then – amid every circumstance, not only of intellectual, but also of physical, excitement – comes the elimination of the eight erroneous solutions, until the right solution is finally achieved.

Mr. Connington’s latest proof that he is a master of detective architecture preserves honestly the first rule of the game: every clue is presented as it is discovered by the police, so that the reader can compete with the detectives in that breath-taking race towards the solution of the mystery.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (8th November 1928):

Mr. Connington has established his name in the front rank of detective story writers.  His particular strength lies in his respect for his readers’ intelligence, and his stories are essentially puzzles with honestly worked out solutions.  He does not make it as difficult as he can for the reader to detect the murderer very early on, and does not load his stage with dummies, for he has realised that a story is just as good reading when the reader feels he is no befogged Watson but worthy to join in the hunt, and that establishing the evidence against a criminal may be as exciting as finding out who he is.  The Case with Nine Solutions is a tale of a double murder—with later murders thrown in—and the nine solutions are the combinations of accident, murder and suicide that are possible.  The reader need not be afraid that in the event accident plays much part.  This is a very well constructed story, and piece after piece is added to the puzzle till the reader shuts the book with a mind satisfied and replete, after a tussle with a criminal worthy of Mr. Connington, who has already brought into the world and removed again more than one singularly discerning villain.

Spectator (6th October 1928, 60w):

The dénouement is completely unexpected, and fully upholds the author’s reputation as a master of this kind of story.

NY Times (3rd January 1929, 160w):

Mr. Connington has several good detective stories to his credit—The Case With Nine Solutions is not the least of them.

Outlook (W.R. Brooks, 9th January 1929, 110w):

The combination of plenty of action with a careful presentation of the puzzle is rather unusual.  We recommend it to those who like a good story.

Sat R of Lit (9th February 1929, 130w):

This is a very conventional, not altogether exciting, but quite readable detective story.

Springfield Republican (10th February 1929, 200w):

There is more action in this story than in some of the author’s preceding ones, and it is a difficult book to lay down until it is finished.