Saturday, 31 March 2012

Murder at Crome House - GDH & Margaret Cole

Another classic Penguin greenback from the Golden Age of detective fiction, this one from 1927.  GDH Cole (1889-1959) is the slightly better remembered half of the husband-and-wife literary team.  He was a libertarian socialist, Fabian and co-operator who also wrote political non-fiction.  His wife Margaret (1893-1980) was a pacifist and also a Fabian, who was later knighted for her services to local government.

The Murder at Crome House is only the third of about thirty novels they wrote together.  It does not feature one of their regular sleuths but is a stand-alone mystery featuring James Flint, an academic of enquiring mind who inevitably puts us in mind of GDH himself.

The set-up of the mystery - the murder of Sir Harry Wye - is so convoluted that I initially thought I was reading a spoof.  The murder has been photographed, not once but twice, by the victim and featuring two different killers.  It's not a spoof but what I suspect we have here is two clever people dreaming up the wildest possible premise and unravelling it as they go rather than plotting it out in advance.

That said, the writing is witty and smart throughout.  The Coles avoid the usual pitfall of contemporary writing and soak their scenes with layers of circumstantial detail which brings the world of 85 years ago vividly back to life for the modern reader.

I enjoyed it thoroughly without ever once believing it.  I didn't guess the murderer - I never do - but I for once I don't see that as a shortcoming on my part.

Like Mr and Mrs Cole, I overthought it.

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