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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-08 17:31
The Babes in the ... Loch?
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne

 

Well, this was a fun read.

 

Anthony Wynne (real name: Robert McNair Wilson), Martin Edwards informs us in this book's preface and in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, was the long-standing medical correspondent of The Times; a man with many and varied interests which, in addition to his medical profession and  publications in subjects ranging from science to history and, well, detective fiction -- also included politics and national economics.

 

His abiding interest in psychology (by training, he was a cardiologist and a nerve specialist) is certainly at play in this novel as well, in which the spinster sister of an impoverished Scottish laird is found dead in her bedroom, after its locked doors have been forced open.  The room's windows are likewise locked, and though she has suffered a brutally-administered (and obviously fatal) wound, no murder weapon is found, and she has lost surprisingly little blood given the nature of her wound.

 

Dr. Eustace Hailey -- Wynne's "great detective" and almost certainly at least in part a stand-in for the author, whose opinions and outlook on life he seems to share in quite a number of respects -- is called in to the investigation by the regional Procurator Fiscal, but shooed away again with comparatively little grace by the inspector sent by Police Headquarters in Glasgow to investigate the murder ... only to be resorted to once more (with equally little grace) in a matter of days, when the inspector's investigative trails have summarily run cold.

 

The murdered woman locally had a reputation touching on saintlihood, but was in fact a manipulative witch of the worst order who held her entire household in an oppressive stranglehold -- she was, in other words, a textbook Golden Age mystery victim.  Motives for her murder abound, but neither they nor the apparent opportunities to commit the crime are consistent with the psychology of the potential suspects, and just like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Dr. Hailey refuses to attach guilt to a would-be suspect as long as motive, means, evidence and psychology are not aligned.  It also doesn't seem to help that local rumour soon ascribes the lady's death to a selkie believed to be living in Loch Fyne, where the events are taking place (I'd initially thought the book was set on Loch Lomond: turns out I was in error by two Trossach mountain ranges; still, the scenery is similar), on the strength of a fish scale found near the dead woman's body.

 

The novel is tightly-plotted, and I tremendously enjoyed both its psychological aspects and Wynne's way with words -- and unlike Tigus and Moonlight Reader I also didn't mind the amount of dialogue.  There were some things that didn't make sense to me, which I'm going to address in the spoiler below, but they didn't impinge on my enjoyment half as much as they might have in a weaker book.  By and large the story hangs together very well, and though the calamities certainly pile up towards the end, Wynne also manages to tie it up neatly and without any obvious rush.

 

As a coincidental side note, several elements of this book also tied in with my recent Halloween Bingo reads ... one of them being a reference to "the babes in the wood," a proverb based on a traditional children's tale dealing with -- you guessed it -- two kids all alone in the woods, after their parents have unwittingly left them to the care of their evil uncle, who in short order proceeds to deliver them into the hands of murderers.  The tale was first published as a ballad by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595 -- the late 19th century Caldecott version is available for free on the Project Gutenberg site -- and has given rise to a proverb indicating essentially the same as someone being "in over their head"; i.e., being overwhelmed by situation requiring decidedly more experience than one really possesses.  That would certainly be an apt description for many a member of the dead woman's household in this novel -- at least as much, if not more so than in Ruth Rendell's novel of the same name, which I read for (obviously) the "In the Dark, Dark Woods" square of the Halloween Bingo.

 

All in all, I am very grateful to Martin Edwards and the British Library for having unearthed this little gem after almost a century's worth of neglect, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books by Anthony Wynne ... hoping I can find them, that is.

 

NOTE: Don't read the below spoiler if you haven't read / finished this book yet; I'm going to address, inter alia, the novel's conclusion there.

 

 

Alright, so here are the things that had me scratching my head, and which prevented this from getting an even higher star rating:

 

 

 

1.) The "concealed" footsteps outside the writing room window below Mary Gregor's bedroom. "Covering up" footsteps with dirt (from the same ground they're in, in the first place) and they're supposed to still remain pristine underneath the "covering" dirt just waiting to be, ahem, unearthed by a detective unsatisfied with the apparently untouched appearance of that particular piece of ground?  Balderdash.

 

2.)  Eoghan's and Dr. McDonald's response to Dr. Hailey's arguments on the boat.  We're talking about an era when, and a social class where, people (well, men, anyway) who had terminally failed -- either in business, i.e., who had gone bankrupt, or personally, including having committed a crime or caused any other situation that would bring their family and loved ones into abject disrepute (like a murder trial certainly would, even if they were innocent; and both Eoghan and Dr. McDonald explicitly make reference to this) -- were quite literally socially expected to execute justice on themselves by committing suicide.  (Thomas Mann, for one, derived considerable mileage out of this circumstance alone in his writings.)  In fact, we're explicitly told repeatedly that the Duchlan family code, too, firmly embodied this line of thought.   Similarly -- as the odious Inspector Barley observes in one of his astuter moments -- husbands were expected to throw themselves on the sword in order to safeguard the honour of their wives, innocent or not; and Eoghan has demonstrated his willingness to do precisely that once already (and I couldn't help but root for him then, if only because it managed to shut Barley up good and proper for once at least).  And I know enough about people facing up to a terminal crisis that -- unlike people running away from it -- the only arguments these people will listen to are arguments conclusively addressing the worst case they see before themselves. Unless you can show them a convincing way to deal with that worst case, they won't care a jot about any spurious hope that it just might not come to that -- they are leagues past that sort of hope.

 

Now, when Eoghan and Dr. McDonald take Eoghan's boat out on the loch, they have both been both facing up to the consequences of a murder trial involving Oonagh and Dr. McDonald -- they aren't running away (without Oonagh, at that) but planning to commit suicide in order to spare her the trial and safeguard the Duchlan family name.  Yet, Dr. Hailey's arguments when persuading them to desist do not actually address the eventuality of a guilty verdict; nor the risk that nothing would actually be gained in Oonagh's favour by their proposed suicide.  His arguments are, essentially, of the "well, it might not come to that" and "surely, the jury would be more reasonable than you in your muddled-brain and worried current state expect them to be" brand that would easily convince only someone running away from a problem and willing to cling to every bit of spurious hope.  But both Eoghan and Dr. McDonald are past that point; in addition to which, as Dr. McDonald points out, between drowning and the rope, drowning would conceivably have been the easier death. -- So I was very surprised at the ease with which Dr. Hailey manages to get them to, literally, turn around; this didn't strike me as in keeping with the psychological insight at play in the rest of the novel at all.

 

3.)  The murder method.  By which I don't mean the use of ice as such -- that's a time-honoured "impossible crime" trope that has been used by everbody from John Dickson Carr (who even included it expressly as an example in his lecture on the seven types of locked room mysteries) and Roald Dahl to ... the author of another Halloween Bingo read of mine, James D. Doss.  Yet, leaving aside that killing someone by hitting them with a huge block of ice from a considerable height requires both a great deal of precision and for the victim to stand still long enough for that block of ice to hit its target (i.e., a hell of a lot of coincidence at play), only in the two last murders do I even buy into the reason why the victim ended up standing where they could be killed that way in the first place: Barley was enticed to move that way, and Duchlan had the misfortune to move where Dr. Hailey had set his trap; i.e., in his case, coincidence actually was at play in the worst of all possible ways.

 

However, most buildings from before WWI -- even "ordinary" city dwellings; even more so, centuries-old castles like Duchlan in this novel -- have outer walls that are easily several feet worth of massive stone in width.  And I know from personal experience (having lived in turn-of-the[19th-to-20th]-century buildings both as a kid and for several years while I was living in Berlin) that nothing works as a more efficient bar shielding the interior of such a building from outside weather conditions than these walls -- no air conditioning required whatsover.  Thus, even if it is (as we are told) swelteringly hot outside, you won't feel the heat indoors; in fact, it may even be so cool indoors that you find yourself resorting to a sweater, only to wish you could dispense with any and all clothing the second you step outside.  And yet, in precisely such a building, we're to believe that people move to the window for purposes of cooling down ... at a time when the air outside is (even though it's evening) quite likely still warmer than the air indoors?  Not on your life. -- (Added to which, again there is some mighty coincidence at play in the first murder, as there was no reason to expect Mary Gregor to even step to the window in the first place, as only the sudden shock she had received minutes earlier made her decide to close it at all, whereas usually it was her habit to sleep with her windows wide open.)

(spoiler show)

 

This novel fullfills the chapter 5 square on the Detection Club bingo card, "Miraculous Murders" (locked room mysteries and impossible crimes).

 

In the context of the Halloween Bingo, it would fit "Amateur Sleuth", "Country House Murders", "Murder Most Foul" and, of course, also "Locked Room Mystery."

 

The Detection Club bingo card:

 

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text 2017-10-07 12:12
Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 288 pages.
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne

Well done on your response to the odious Inspector Barley's cross examination, Eoghan.  That was admirable (even if predictably ultimately futile), and it makes me hope that you and your immediate family will come out of these strange events OK and with possibly even a hope for a better future.

 

I'm not buying into any of the suspects that are being shoved under my nose, however much it may seem that logically they are the only persons that can have committed the crimes (and however much superficially they might have had a motive).  There's an agent manipulating things in the background, I'm fairly certain -- Wynne places way too great an emphasis on psychology and on Mary Gregor's stranglehold of the entire Duchlan clan, from her youth onwards.  The solution has to be connected to that.

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text 2017-10-06 14:59
Reading progress update: I've read 84 out of 288 pages.
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne

Hmmm.  Seems I've gotten to the novel's first major game-changing point, so it's as well to take a break here.  So far I'm loving it -- how inconceivable that this book should have been buried beneath the sands of time for the better part of a century.  Thanks and kudos to Martin Edwards and the British Library for unearthing it!

 

That said, I agree with Moonlight Reader that Mary Gregor is / was a hateful woman, and I very much share Dr. Hailey's sentiments when he quotes a popular comment:

 

"It's a wonder no one has murdered her before."

(spoiler show)

Side note: Since this book's author was a doctor by profession himself, I wonder where we're going with the kid's alleged "brain fever."  I can't help but think Wynne is setting this one up as a major debunking of that particular myth ... Dr. Hailey strikes me as way too commonsensical (and also way too good a psychologist, even if not one by training) to believe in that sort of nonsense himself.

 

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text 2017-10-05 15:53
"Murder of a Lady" Buddy Read: Setting the Scene
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne

So, a thumbnail-size insert on the book's back cover informs us that the stunning front cover of Murder of a Lady is taken from an old advertisement poster for Tarbet Hotel on Loch Lomond.  (This isn't the only book where the British Library does this sort of mini "front cover source reveal" on the back, and I love them for that alone!)

 

That being the case, I figured I'd add some (more or less) present day visual context from a visit to the area some years ago, since Mr. Wynne informs us in the book's very first line that we are, indeed, in Argyll, so the selection of the British Library cover is not a random pretty picture from the Scottish Highlands but one striving for a certain level of period authenticity.

 


Tarbet Hotel aerial views (on YouTube)
(Note: When in BL Dashboard view, click on the link -- the video insert only shows in blog view.)

 

Though we didn't visit Tarbet during our trip, we did see several similarly fine old buildings on the shores of Loch Lomond; typically private properties whose access is barred to the general public, but which you can at least view from afar during a boat trip on the loch (or when climbing one of the nearby hillsides).

 

... and here's some more of the Loch Lomond scenery (with Ben Lomond [= Mt. Lomond] figuring prominently in the last two pictures):

 

Merken

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text 2017-09-02 08:10
Book Tour - Outsider
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NEW RELEASE...
On the western highlands of Scotland, a springtime storm pummels the coast while Kristie's brother is out fishing. When he fails to return home, Kristie turns away from her list of chores to search the loch in an effort to ease her pregnant sister-in-law's fears. Instead of finding Domnall, she discovers a naked and battered man washed up on shore and worries he could be a thieving reiver or worse--an Englishman.

When the handsome outsider wakes, he is unable to remember who he is or how he came to be there. Although the feisty and melancholy Kristie isn't keen on him remaining, her young neighbor, Jock, takes to the playful stranger and names Creag after the rocky crags where the loch meets the sea. Not long after the lad speaks of selkies, magical seals who shed their skins to live as humans, Creag dreams he is swimming deep beneath the waves.

Kristie is desperate to keep the farm running for her missing brother while Creag's sleep is filled with strange visions--glimpses that may reveal secrets to his past, but he may soon wish they were only a dream.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

TIME OF MYTHS 
Shapeshifter Sagas {Western European Myths from the Middle Ages}

Widow {13thc. | Black Shuck | England}
Scars {10thc. | Fenrir | Iceland}
Tides {10thc. | Kraken | Great Britain/Ireland}
Outsider {14thc. | Selkie | Scotland}

Available to buy from....
Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk   Paperback

Also Available
Widow (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 1)
Lady Rayne has few options as a young widow. Either her father will marry her off to a wealthy nobleman--no matter how old and disagreeable he may be, or she will become a nun like her aunt at Grimsford Abbey. The choice is easy: her interest in writing is not supported in the dark halls of her father's home. Rayne eagerly anticipates becoming a scribe and learning the art of illumination and book making. But first she must travel along the treacherous roads of East Anglia.

Far from the confines of Norwich, Rayne hears fables of an enormous ghostly hound called the Black Shuck. She tries to ignore them until she finds herself staring into its expressive brown eyes. With every heartbeat, her chances of reaching Grimsford Abbey disappear. If only she could live to tell the tale.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**
 
 

Scars (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 2)
Along the breathtaking and unforgiving coast of Snæland, Ásta’s ancestral farm is plagued with bad luck. The kinless maiden’s turf walls continue to be found damaged, and there aren’t enough farmhands to maintain the property. Claw marks in the dirt revive old memories of the wolf attack that left her scarred, and she begins to fear the whispers are true—that Fenrir, son of Loki and king of the wolves, has come to claim her and her land.

Torin often leaves his uncle’s farm in the southern hills to track and ensnare valuable gyrfalcons. His secret ability to turn into the birds he trains means his falconry skills are unparalleled, earning him precious silver and gold. If the ghosts of his past didn’t haunt him daily, pushing him to numb his senses with drink, Torin might have married by now—as his uncle often reminds him. He knows the time has finally come to find a wife and settle down.

During the Althing, the gathering of the year, Ásta’s ability to maintain her property comes into question while Torin wonders if a woman in jeopardy of losing her farm is really worth the trouble.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....
Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk   Paperback
 

Tides (Time of Myths: Shapeshifter Sagas Book 3)
It’s Leif’s eighth summer going viking with his father on their ship the Kraken—and he’s had enough. For as long as Leif can remember, his father has claimed to be a descendant of Ægir, god of the sea, and has exploited their shape changing ability—all this to amass enough gold to gain entrance into the ocean god’s halls. Leif hopes that time’s drawing near so he can free himself from Ragna’s domineering shadow.

On the green hills of Éire, Eilish is content learning traditional folk cures from her father until a Finn-Gall raid disturbs the peace. Desperate to protect Eilish from harm, her father cuts her hair and disguises her in his old clothing before she’s ripped from the only home she’s ever known. Sold as a thrall in Duiblinn, she must hide out as a young man on a ship full of barbarians.

Now Eilish, who fears she’ll become Ægir’s next sacrifice, and Leif, who isn’t prepared to stand up against his father’s powerful wrath, must face the tides of change—no matter how ominous they may seem.

**CONTENT WARNING: Due to mature content, recommended for readers aged 18+**

Available to buy from....
Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk    Paperback


About the author:
Natasha was born in Nevada City, California. Being an only child, she resorted to using her imagination while exploring the forest surrounding her home (a nasty habit she hasn’t been able to break). Her natural interest in fantasy ignited when her parents read The Hobbit to her as a youth, and from then on anything seemed possible. Once awarded with a Hershey’s bar ‘the size of a Buick’ in her high school English class for creative writing, her passion and interest in literature has never dimmed.

She now lives in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, two children, and two dogs.

Find the author on the following sites...

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