The Matriarch of the castle who eats glass; the diffident son who was physically unfit to take part in the war and is under the thumb of his wife; the wife who is cheating on her husband; the virile, energetic other son who is a war-hero; the daughter-in-law who is capable and smart and plays the role of the lady of the manor to perfection; a disreputable ancestor; a stiff butler; shady guests…. stereotypical characters present in a vintage mystery set in a country manor.
George Milner’s Stately Homicide is no exception. Private detective – or gentlemanly mud-racker as a character calls him and his ilk – Ronald Anglesea, is asked by Lady Victoria to visit her country home, Tranby Castle, as she feels that something sinister is underfoot. The present Marquis, her elder son Henry, for whom she has no respect because he couldn’t take part in the war is behaving strangely. He has called his mother and invited the ‘disreputable’ Carstair brothers to the manor but is now insisting that they have their dinner with his brother, the war-hero Richard, and his sensible wife, Anne, at the latter’s residence. He wants to have a private dinner with his wife, Maureen, the one with a shady past whom he had met somewhere in Cairo…. oh those African/ Asian cities which ensnare English men. This is the latest manifestation of a sinister undercurrent that erupted a couple of weeks earlier when a telegram was sent from the castle which bore the signature of Lord Richard and caused immense damage to his Formula 1 racing team and his reputation. The only thing is he never sent it. So who did?
Post dinner when Anglesea returns to the castle along with the Carstair brothers, Maureen is found murdered, an old ancient sword pinning her to the bed. An ancestor had used the sword to kill his wife. Has the case been repeated?
When I picked up the book from the library shelves, I was excited to discover a new author talking about one of my favourite kinds of vintage mysteries: the country-house murder. As I turned the pages, however, the book lost its charm. Conversations that were so cryptic to be irritating; characters that were so uninteresting that I couldn’t be bothered about a single one; a character being referred to as a ‘tart’ throughout; and novice drivers who didn’t mind running over chickens, crushing peacocks, and killing deer. My interest soon evaporated. And the outlandish solution further exacerbated my sense of time wasted.
First Line: The Question was – whether a man’s qualification to be a private detective could be measured by the ease with which he took to eavesdropping.
Publication Details: 1953. London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1953.
Series: Ronald Anglesea #1
Other Opinions: Jason Half