The novel opens on a day in 1939. The world is sitting on a pile of dynamite as the seven members of the murder club meet to discuss a Sherlock Holmes adventure and have a group photograph taken.
Time passes. One day, the only female member of the group, Dorothea Pharaoh, now in her sixties, decides to host a reunion of the club. One member is dead but the others all receive her invitation. One of the members, Major Stokes, a rabid anti-communist in the days of yore, rings up to tell her that a certain Mr. Green is planning to kill him as he is about to uncover a great communist conspiracy to take-over Britain. Ravings of a lunatic? Perhaps. But Dorothea is still concerned enough to call her friend, the detective Thackrey Phin, to look into the matter. He keeps an all-night vigil outside the Major’s house…. but to no-avail…come the morning and the Major is dead. The police dismiss the death as heart-attack but then two more members of the murder club die. So who is the person behind these murders? What are the secrets that the members are trying to hide? And what is that unsavoury story behind the one member who is supposed to have died during the Blitz?
I guessed the identity of the killer because of a slip that the murderer made but it gave me no pleasure and I kept on hoping that I was wrong about his/her identity.
That apart, I enjoyed this novel and it is sad that the author wrote no Phin mystery after this, turning to SF for financial reasons. And I also found an underlying note of sadness in the novel. Part of it was that it is written in the style of an age that was past (and going by the writer’s comments had no market value during the seventies). Part of it was that with the passing of an era, some of the characters seemed to have no place in the world:
Phin read it through, half-horrified at the writer’s obvious mental anguish, half admiring his fertile imagination. The letter stopped just short of Martians and the great Pyramid, but it was of the same order of madness: An unhappy, lonely, probably ailing old man magnifying his misery into a world-wide plot against him.
In a sense, the plot was all too real. The world had indeed turned against people like Major Stokes. The battle was not between the long-defunct “NKVD” and “M.16” – it was between that sinister and nebulous force called Modern Society and a handful of forgotten pensioners. Society, employing the weapons of neglect, starvation, indifference, and bureaucracy, was certain to triumph.
Ah… the unrelenting march of time.
Opening Lines: Autumn, 1939.
“LOOK PLEASED, EVERYONE,” said the photographer.
Source: Open Library