The Counsellor (J. J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1939; US, Little, Brown, 1939

My review

Connington was obviously trying to refresh his detective fiction after the poor last few Driffields.  It didn’t work.  The Counsellor wears loud tweeds and owns a plane, the dialogue is bright and cheerful – but the mystery itself is dull.  By the 1/3 mark (90 odd pages), we haven’t been given an interesting puzzle.  Once murder is committed, the detection is slow and steady, but it lacks the zest and concentrated interest of the 1920s books.  The solution is unsatisfactory, because it’s not a whodunnit at all; it’s a gang story.

Why are several chapters told second hand?  (e.g. visit to Grendon Manor’s rave party)

Blurb (UK)

In The Counsellor, Mr. Connington introduces to his many admirers a new detective.

Every Sunday on Radio Ardennes, the Counsellor has his hour.  His voice, clear, expressive and sympathetic as it answers a selection from the queries that crowd his post-bag, went straight to the public heart.

“Just ask a question” is his motto.  But it may be doubted whether he ever expected to have so many problems to solve, when he first decided to take seriously the letter addressed to him on page 15 of this book.

Inside blurb adds: The Counsellor is full to overflowing with ‘satiable curiosity’.  Human problems are the breath of his nostrils, and the more circumstances spank him with a hard, hard hoof, the more he quivers for information and the more volatile and versatile he grows.

Blurb (US)

“It is Mr. Connington’s high merit as a writer of detective novels that each one of his clues is fairly presented for the reader to draw from it, if he can and will, the conclusions that afterwards prove correct.” – Manchester Guardian

The Counsellor, a young man of means, makes his living by giving advice to listeners over a continental broadcasting station.  Unusual requests come to him from all over England.  But none more unusual – or challenging – than that which asks him to find a girl who has mysteriously disappeared.

Remember that Mr. Connington always writes an honest detective story.  No clues are hidden, no mass of evidence is unearthed at the last moment, no freak solution is offered.  Perhaps you can beat The Counsellor to the solution.

Contemporary reviews

Sat R of Lit (15th July 1939, 40w):

Mark Brand, ‘the Counsellor’ is refreshing new figure in mystery fiction.  Plot of tale beautifully tangled and unravelling admirable.  Extra good.

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 22nd July 1939):


Mr. Connington has invented a new character to replace his able
Chief Constable and his Squire Wendover.  “The Counsellor” from whom the story takes its title is the pseudonym of Mark Brand, a broadcaster who gives advice to all and sundry from Radio-Ardennes.  Brand was a rich young man who sought a new profession for himself.  He bought “time on the air” each Sunday to discuss personal problems of general interest.  So good was his advice, so persuasive his voice that the public listened and soon floods of letters came to him accompanied in due course by sixpence postal-orders.  One day he is asked to help in finding a girl who set off to a tennis party in her car but never got there.  The Counsellor’s detective interests are aroused and with the somewhat reluctant help of his staff he personally traces the girl’s adventures with the aid of information supplied by his listeners.  He discovers that the girl had gone to Scotland with a young man and underwent an illegal marriage ceremony at Gretna Green.  However, the Counsellor begins to wonder whether the trail was not too pointedly laid and suspects that the incident may conceal more sinister happenings.  He proves right, for the lost girl’s uncle is murdered and a criminal plot unravelled.  The book has its faults; it begins better than it finishes; some of the dialogue is arch and not all of the characters are as distinctive as the Counsellor himself.  Nevertheless Mr. Connington is to be congratulated on experimenting in a different type of detective story.

The Times (1st August 1939):


Are detective-story writers revolting against their own heroes?  Instead of characters in search of an author authors seem to be seeking new sleuths, bored with their own popular creations.  Too often the detective who is a hero to thousands of readers is an Old Man of the Sea to the writer who launched him so gaily on his adventures.  Conan Doyle actually killed Holmes in an attempt to be rid of him; Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham has apparently retired; Poirot is missing from Miss Christie’s last book; and even Lord Peter had to stand aside for a time for the plebeian Montague Egg.

Mr. J. J. Connington joins the revolutionaries in his new story.  Sir Clinton Driffield and his colleagues in so many cases are replaced by Mark Brand, an energetic young man who broadcasts a weekly talk on listeners’ problems.  One appeal is for help in tracing a young woman who vanished on her way to a tennis part; and this sets The Counsellor off on an intricate piece of amateur detection.  Traces of an apparent elopement do not convince him, and his further researches result in a murderous attack on himself and a more successful attempt on the girl’s uncle.  Eventually Mark reveals a sinister and cleverly worked-out plot.

Time (7th August 1939, 40w):

Merits: a neatly involved plot; an engaging new sleuth (Mark Brand, ‘The Counsellor’).  Fault: readers can beat the author to the solution.

Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 8th August 1939):

Mr. J. J. Connington has always possessed in a high degree the detective novelist’s special gift of inventive ingenuity, but his tales never reach beyond themselves, as is the strange power of imagination, nor is he able to impart much semblance of life to his characters.  In The Counsellor his ingenuity and constructive powers are shown at their best, and there is originality in the idea of the private broadcaster who undertakes to answer those many questions of modern life that at times worry us all.  In one problem put to him he grows personally interested and, following it up, unearths a wide-spread criminal conspiracy.