- By R.A.J. Walling
- First published: UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1934; US: Morrow, 1934, as The Bachelor Flat Mystery
A solid, complicated mystery: an unknown body found in a flat belonging to another man, suspected of having an alias. Despite Walling’s poor reputation, the plot is competent, straightforward and understandable, and the murderer not too difficult to spot.
1934 Hodder & Stoughton (UK)
Lord Greenwood, who is something in the Government, his lovely niece Alicia Chance, her lively brother Bill, those young bloods Ted Fielding and Arthur North, the romantic young giant Howard Killick, and the film star Millicent Vane, are among the people entangled in the net of circumstance surrounding the murder in a flat in Elford Mansions, Bayswater.
Eight to Nine relates how the thoroughness of Scotland Yard, together with the keen eyes and the deductive reasoning of Philip Tolefree, straightened out the tangle after they had all gone through a succession of hair-raising experiences.
Perhaps there never was a murder where such minute care had been taken to destroy evidence and establish alibi. But Tolefree perceives three tiny clues as soon as he enters the room. His deduction from them is so astonishing that he refuses to reveal it till patient investigation has made its truth incontestable. His inquiries throw him into contact with amusing personalities like Mrs. Louisa Pilling, the queen of Cockney caretakers, and Webble, the Admirable Crichton of chauffeurs; and they lead him and his crony Farrar into an exciting adventure in the Norfolk fens.
The final scene, while it is an immense surprise, provides a perfect vindication of Tolefree’s logical theory of the case.
1934 Morrow, as THE BACHELOR FLAT MYSTERY
When Mr. Tolefree was called in to investigate the past of the popular and fascinating actress, Millicent Vane, and find out how strong was the hold she had over Bill Chance, he reluctantly agreed to take the case. It wasn’t the sort of mess he enjoyed. Cynically he accepted Lord Greenwood’s classification of Miss Vane as a femme fatale (without dreaming how true those words were to prove) and started out on the unsavoury trail.
A few hours later, however, he began to get really interested. For the murdered man he and Farrar found in a flat in the same bachelor establishment where Chance lived, presented a delicate and perplexing problem. And while the police were overwhelmed by the swarm of elegant Mayfair lights, who had that evening mysteriously found their way in and out of the flat, Mr. Tolefree kept his eye on the clue given him by an Australian feather, and an Australian coin, and brings the case to an exciting and unexpected conclusion.
R.A.J. Walling, who is an old and well-known hand at the mystery game, again produces the type of story which has made him so popular. A civilised, clever book, with characters who are really alive, and whose fate is always a matter of interest to the reader.
Sunday Times (Dorothy L. Sayers, 19th August 1934):
In Mr. Walling’s Eight to Nine we are in London. Here the pace is rather more vigorous and the accent more sforzando [than Clive Ryland’s Murder on the Cliff]. The inhabitants of Elford Mansions were a curious set of people, and some of them had rather unusual pasts; so that when a dead man was discovered in one of the flats, there were a good many suspects for Mr. Tolefree the detective to deal with.
Mr. R.A.J. Walling is an extremely skilful maker of plots and surprises, and in this book he has also created some excellent and amusing characters—particularly Mrs. Louisa Pilling, the caretaker, and the imperturbable Mr. Mason, who took such a detached view of the noisy disturbances that accompanied the murder. His detective has one bad habit, which I am afraid he acquired from the late Mr. Sherlock Holmes. He occasionally observes some small object or action without communicating his observations to the reader, and is thus able to bring out a set of startling deductions which nobody else has had a chance to make. Thus the contents of the corpse’s pockets should have been fully described, and when certain items disappeared, we should have been given a timely hint to that effect, so that we might guess by whom the disappearance had been contrived. The mystification is cleared up before the final solution, but not quite early enough for perfect fairness. With this reservation, the tale is a good one—in fact, one of the best things Mr. Walling has done. But he must watch this besetting sin of his, which was the chief defect of some of his earlier books, particularly The Strong Room.