‘It’s no joke having a man murdered at the back of your own garden.’
Source: Review Copy
As I mentioned in my first post on Annie’s Haynes: The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), her writing career was cut short by heart failure. The third novel of hers, which I reviewed, Who Killed Charmian Karslake? (1929) was published posthumously. However, things were not so simple for this novel, The Crystal Beads Murder (1930), which Haynes had only written the first 15 chapters for. But her publishers, The Bodley Head were determined to have it published completed so they got another writer to finish it off, yet no one knows for sure who it was. Although, on his blog, The Passing Tramp and in the introductions for the current reprints, Curtis Evans does suggest some possible candidates, some of whom are more well-known than others. This reprint also includes the original foreword written by Haynes’ close companion, Ada Heather-Bigg and she intimates that the mystery writer came up with the same solution to the case, which Haynes herself had envisaged. The choice of murder scene in the novel has been argued as a reference to the unsolved Caroline Mary Luard murder case, where the aforementioned woman was found shot in a summerhouse in 1908 and Heather-Bigg says that Haynes herself cycled to visit the scene of the crime.
The opening of the novel returns to the sensation fiction style most strongly seen in The Man with the Dark Beard. Harold Courtenay, is an incurable gambler on horses, which puts him in a catastrophic position financially when the horse he backs does not win a race. Not only is he in mountains of debt, he tried to replace the money he took from his employer by forging an acquaintance’s name on a money lender’s bill. To make this situation even worse, this acquaintance, Robert Sanderson, has found out and will only not prosecute if Harold’s sister, Anne, marries him, despite already being engaged to Michael Burford, Lord Medchester’s horse trainer:
‘Michael Burford. Pah! You shall never marry him. You shall marry me. I swear it.’
And it is at Lord Medchester’s home, Holford, where the novel’s events take place. Determined to not let shame and disgrace be brought on the family, Anne agrees to meet with Sanderson in Lord Medchester’s summerhouse one night, an event which is given a sense of moral foreboding, more commonly found in Victorian novels:
‘That Anne Courtenay should be giving an assignation there at this time at night seemed to her to show the depths to which she had fallen.’
As Anne enters the summerhouse the narrative cuts off and in the morning one of the gardeners finds Sanderson shot there. An unusual clue in the novel is foreshadowed in the title, as some crystal beads from a necklace are on the body. The most puzzling part of them is that they weren’t there when the body was first searched. Inspector Stoddart is convinced that discovering the owner of the beads will lead them to the murderer. It doesn’t help they’re the latest craze, meaning most women have them.
The murder investigation quickly becomes a strain on most of the characters involved, who had motives and opportunities to do the deed and unsurprisingly are incredibly uncommunicative with the police. Anne is probably one of the most outwardly distressed characters during the investigation, initially planning to call off her engagement:
‘Always in my dreams I see them, staring, watching every movement. Never, never can I get away. Oh, the world is all eyes – everywhere there are eyes.’
And for the reader and the police the question is whose secrets is she hiding? Her brother’s? Her fiancé’s? Or just her own? There are also many dramatic changes in Harold’s life as well, as two deaths in the family mean he becomes the new Lord Gorth. However all the changes are not so positive, as it emerges he has also become recently engaged to a woman called Sybil Stainer, a woman of very poor reputation. Such a move becomes boggling when not just Anne, and Lady Medchester abhor the match, but the bride groom to be also. Yet they are all appear powerless to prevent the wedding which becomes increasingly closer and closer…
But there are even more mysteries to come as not only does a Mrs Sanderson turn up, but the local superintendent calls through to Stoddart to tell him he’s found the ‘best clue we’ve got yet’. However, when Inspector Stoddart arrives, Superintendent Mayer is nowhere to be seen…. What clue had he unearthed? Whose suspicious behaviour is only a red herring? Who owned the crystal bead necklace? Can Harold’s wedding be stopped? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out…
To take on a half-finished story is no easy task and I think Haynes’ mystery helper did do a good job on the whole. Many of the central female characters are multi-layered, meaning no one is completely innocent, having some troubling or unpleasant characteristics, which in some cases leads them to act viciously without regret. Yet I can’t resist thinking the story would have been better if Haynes had been able to complete it herself. For example, as Curtis Evans notes, there is an increase in the use of narrative voice over dialogue, which I think made it a bit slow occasionally. Moreover, I think the investigation needed more fresh developments more quickly as in the middle of the novel it did feel there was a sense of going over old ground, with the witnesses each time giving out no new information and I think Inspector Stoddart does procrastinate over confronting suspects more strongly. However, a possible positive of the change of author is that in contrast to the previous novel I reviewed, Inspector Stoddart’s dialogue is less negative against women, consigning himself to thinking that:
‘All marriages came into that category in his opinion; he intended to remain a bachelor. If, as they said, a woman was at the bottom of all the trouble, it was asking for it to marry one of them.’
Although ironically a society magazine does help solve the case. Despite the unknown writer selecting the criminal Haynes planned, I don’t think the criminal’s motivations properly work as certain events in the book (which I won’t disclose) don’t occur at the right time to precipitate this person killing Sanderson. Furthermore in comparison to the other three Haynes’ novels I have read I did not think the ending was quite right. Haynes seems to prefer endings with dramatic twists and romantic, happily ever after moments. This does not happen here, merely ending with Inspector Stobbart explaining how the case was solved and it felt too abrupt an ending.
Rating: 3/5 (I wouldn’t dismiss this book out of hand, as the mystery is set up well, with man suspects to pick from, but I think for a Haynes’ novice I would start with one of her other books such as The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929) or Who Killed Charmian Karslake?)