The Woman at Belguardo (Erskine)

  • By Margaret Erskine
  • First published: UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1961; US: Doubleday, 1961

Erskine’s reputation has unfairly suffered.  She was pushed in the USA as a woman’s writer in the HIBK / Gothic tradition—which she isn’t.  According to her Penguin bio, she ‘writes detective stories because she likes working them out’.  John Rhode sponsored her in the Detection Club, but she was blackballed by Brand.  If anything, she’s clearly influenced by Carr: genuinely mysterious and mystifying situations; excellent clueing and detection (Inspector Finch’s investigation of the crime scene in Ch. 3, which reconstructs the murder and raises interesting small questions); the spread of suspicion among a small group of well-defined people; and a menacing atmosphere.

The solution is excellent.  The murderer is not someone I considered, but the revelation is the genuine thrill of inevitability and convincing psychological wrongness.  The misdirection relies on no great ingenuity on the murderer’s part, but on a simple and highly effective use of the reader’s assumptions against him. Jr ner gbyq gung gur zheqrere vf fbzrbar jub ybirq Enpury Cbggre, naq rkcrpg n ybire (Unepbheg)—abg n fba.