The Dangerfield Talisman (J.J. Connington)

By J. J. Connington

First published: UK, Ernest Benn, 1927; US, Little Brown, 1927

Blurb (US)

Connington - The Dangerfield Talisman.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

In the first place, there was the Dangerfield Talisman, an ancient golden armlet set with diamonds and valued at fifty thousand pounds – an unguarded treasure which, although stolen more than once, always came back.  In the second place, there was the Dangerfield Secret.

Old Rollo Dangerfield gave a house party and one night during a wild thunderstorm the armlet vanished.  The owner did not seem upset, convinced that within seven days, at the outside, it would be back.  The last thief had been found on the grounds dead of heart failure with the Talisman in his hand.  Determined to investigate among themselves, however, the guests in so doing unearthed the most bewildering complications.

The mystery of this ingenious story fairly pulls you from your easy chair to your desk so that you may with pencil and paper figure out who were in the house and what their respective alibis amounted to.  There is in the working out of the plot some decidedly clever detective work with many novel twists and a chess problem thrown in.  it may truly be called a mystery within a mystery.

My review

A light-hearted murderless country house mystery, in the best 1920s manner.  There are two mysteries.  The first, and most important, is the theft of the Dangerfield Talisman, a jewelled armlet from Saxon times.  This is solved by an early and excellent left-handed / right-handed test (inspiration for Ellery Queen?), and the culprit is a kleptomaniac.  (Somnambulism is a possibility at one point.)  The plot then takes a dog-leg, and becomes a hunt for treasure / family heirlooms in the line of Doyle’s “Musgrave Ritual”.  The chess problem, and secret message involving a Biblical quotation and a pun may also have influenced Sayers’s “Uncle Meleager’s Will”, just as the duplicate family heirloom and hereditary secret anticipate early Allingham, particularly Look to the Lady.

Throughout, the comic tone is maintained, and the dialogue is excellent.

Note similarities to Tragedy at Ravensthorpe.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (16th September 1926):

Mr. Connington’s new mystery story is a clever piece of work.  It owes, perhaps, a little to the famous Sherlock Holmes tale, the “Musgrave Ritual”, for here also is an ancient family which has a secret and a species of cipher handed down to each generation.  The Dangerfield Talisman has a long history, going back to the origin of the house in Saxon times; the secret is recent, only two or three generations.  There is a house party at Froischeim and the talisman disappears.  Outsiders and the servants are ruled out, and the problem is to find which of the guests is the thief.  This is satisfactorily solved in an unexciting way, but the more interesting part of the mystery, the discovery of the secret and its meaning, is sufficiently complicated and ingenious.


Spectator (11th September 1926, 40w):

The characters are well and humorously drawn.


Nation and Athenaeum (24th December 1926, 140w):

The plot depends too much, perhaps, on mechanical contrivances and laboured motives; but the characters and reactions of the various guests are sufficiently amusing to gloss over improbabilities.


NY Times (20th February 1927, 300w):

The whole affair is ingeniously fitted together and, what is more, it is written with a deal of real literary charm.  A wealth of sly British humour runs through the dialogue, and the picture of a house full of assorted week-end guests, all in difficulties and all under a cloud, is an extremely amusing one.



Rose Macaulay in The London Daily News: Very ingenious.

Gerald Gould in The London Observer: Specially ingenious.

The Outlook, London: So ingenious and elaborate.

The Referee, London: I never read a more ingenious tale.

The Westminster Gazette: Clever and ingenious.

The London Mercury: Mr. J. J. Connington has written an admirable book.

The Providence Journal: This oddly attractive mystery story impresses us as one of the most enjoyable we have read in many seasons.  …  Whoever Mr. Connington may be, his name hereafter will be a signal to the wise.

The New York Times Book Review: It is written with a deal of real literary charm.  If this is a fair sample of Mr. Connington’s work, we could do with more of it.