Friday’s Forgotten Book: Miss Jessica’s Stick by Aylmer Hunter (1942)

” There’s good stuff in all the Mildmays. And bad stuff too. Either win the V.C. or commit murder.”

Jane Carstairs has been through a lot. At the age of 21 while she was all rich and comfortable, her father lost everything on certain dubious speculations. In what was termed a fit of insanity at that financial crash, he strangled his wife and then shot himself. Jane not having received the education and training that would get her a well-paid job, was finally offered the job of a companion by Mrs. Barstowe, a friend of her family. It was not easy to obliterate the stigma attached to her name but because of her forbearance in administrating to a hypochondriacal woman and her patience in hearing the grievances of the others of the village, Jane was finally able to create a place for herself so much so that when Mary Barstowe died leaving her wealth to Jane, everybody was happy for her. Finally at the age of 30 then, Jane can once again move in the social circles that were hers before tragedy struck her family.

However when she receives an invite from Miss Jessica Mildmay who was a friend of Mrs. Barstowe, Jessica is non-plussed. Jessica Mildmay with her stick that goes tap-tap-tap had never deigned to notice Jane when she visited Mary so why was she being invited to her house. Mrs. Doyle, a sympathetic village-woman, tells her that Jessica might be interested in Jane marrying her nephew, Neville. The prospect is not displeasing to Jane and she accepts the invite though Colonel Doyle tells her that she shouldn’t go over.

When she reaches Harcourt House, however, she does think that the Colonel was right as there is too much of acrimony between Jessica and her nephew and nieces, the widowed Grace and the impulsive, Patricia. Jessica who holds the purse strings rules over them with an iron-rod (or rather stick) and they grudge asking her for money to what they feel are their just financial demands. Often the Mildmays are fighting amongst themselves and even threatening to murder Jessica so when Miss Jessica is really found poisoned the police have no lack of suspects and motives. And they really need no advice from Peter Polworth who is a guest of the Chief Constable but as the alternative is to call the Yard, they accept it grudgingly. It is just as well.

This was a good mystery and I enjoyed the humorous conversations between the misogynist Colonel and his wife as well as those between Posworth and Matilda Murgatroyd, the poor relation who too stays at Harcourt House. Humour is, in fact, a strong point of the novel:

Nothing had caused such animated talk since the late General Mildmay, affronted by incense, had thrown the new parson into the duck pond.

I could get no info on the author, Aylmer Hunter except that he wrote a novel called Fool’s Purgatory prior to this. This is his first detective novel dedicated to The Memory of Charles, Second Viscount Halifax who always urged the author to write a detective story. Hunter remembers him with affection and gratitude and thanks Halifax’s son. {This son, incidentally, Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, 1st Earl of Halifax, KG, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, TD, PC (16 April 1881 – 23 December 1959) was the Viceroy of India from 1926 to 1931 and then known simply as Lord Irwin.}

I had guessed the murderer but this is a well-crafted mystery and one of the strangest titles I have ever come across. A note of caution however, don’t read the blurb first as it gives away the murderer. Thankfully, I read it after finishing the book.

Have you heard of this author?


First Line: Market Clinton was delghted.

Author: Aylmer Hunter

Pub Details: London: John Murray, 1943

First Published: 1942

Pages: 211

15 thoughts on “Friday’s Forgotten Book: Miss Jessica’s Stick by Aylmer Hunter (1942)

  1. It does sound intriguing, Neeru. I appreciate witty dialogue; it’s not easy to do that well. And it sounds a bit atmospheric, too, which can really add to a whodunit. I can see why you enjoyed it, even if you did work out who the killer was.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An author new to me, too. I see the one on eBay that you used as your photo, but as much as I enjoyed your review, I’m not sure I enjoyed it $90 worth. (I’m thinking about it!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I haven’t read many mysteries written in the 1940s for a while. After reading your fine review, I want to drop everything and read something from that era by Cornell Woolrich. Some of his best mysteries like THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and Rendezvous in Black were 1940s novels.

    Liked by 1 person

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