Lady Audley’s Secret Revisited in Annie Haynes’ The Abbey Court Murder (1923)

‘All that past, that she had believed buried beyond resurrection had risen, was here at her very doors.’

In a similar way to the first Inspector Stoddart mystery I read by Haynes, my first Inspector Furnival is greatly indebted to the genre of sensation fiction and in fact has many parallels with Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). Although it is to another author, Mrs W. K. Clifford, that the novel is dedicated to, who was also a novelist. Her works tended to focus on the various plights of women such as infanticide in Mrs Keith’s Crime (1885) and female loneliness and unsuccessful marriages in Aunt Anne (1892) and A Woman Alone: Three Stories (1901). Like Clifford, I think Haynes also has a focus on women and the female perspective, as aside from the detective figures, the novel tends to concentrate on how events are affecting the female protagonists, though unlike perhaps Braddon, Haynes’ stories are far less tragic.

The Abbey Court Murder

The Abbey Court Murder (1923) opens with an unnamed man getting the shock of his life when he sees an unexpected face at a wedding he is passing by. This face is Lady Judith Carew’s, who a couple of years ago married Sir Anthony Carew, having been his sister, Peggy’s governess first. Yet on introducing himself to her, it is Judith who receives the greater shock, having thought the man dead and it appears he has some kind of hold over her:

‘I have come home for my own, Judy… When shall I find my Lady Carew at home to me, Judy?’

Desperate to prevent her husband from discovering anything she agrees to meet this man at his rooms at Abbey Court at 9:30 that night. Judith plots and plans to get out of engagements that evening and to ensure her maid and husband are out the way, fatalistically enjoying her seemingly final moments with him. As expected Judith’s meeting with the sinister man goes badly. This man, Cyril Stanmore, claims she is still his wife, despite having told them the last time they met that their marriage was not legal. Despite knowing her life with Anthony is over she still refuses to return to Cyril, which unsurprisingly causes a violent outburst from him, where he disarms her of the revolver she brought (belonging to Sir Anthony). Locked in a room with him her defeat seems inevitable, but this cat and mouse chase turns to Judith’s advantage when she accidently knocks the lights out. In the ensuing darkness she plans to escape, but before she has a chance to do so, a gunshot rings out and she finds Cyril dead on the floor. Terrified she will be blamed for it, Judith flees the scene, only to bump into an old acquaintance who knows of her past with Cyril. In her distress she is unaware that she is being followed home. She tries to get rid of her dress which has become stained with blood, but similar to Haynes’ other novel The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929) this is doomed to failure.

Aside from the terror of being discovered, events turn worse for Judith, as the days past and the investigation into Cyril’s death commences. It seems Judith was not the only person out that night and not where they should be, as we find out that Sir Anthony did not go the dinner engagement he was supposed to and his change of plans becomes increasingly suspicious as we already know he had found the appointment card Cyril gave to Judith and that an unknown man followed away from the scene of the crime. When Judith also finds out he possesses the appointment card, she comes to a troubling conclusion as to who the killer might be. With both Sir Anthony and Judith suspecting each other, their marriage becomes tense and fraught with unvoiced accusations and questions. But is one of them justified in their suspicions? Or is the killer someone else entirely?

Lady Audley's Secret

For those familiar with Lady Audley’s Secret, the events in this opening sequence show overt parallels from Judith’s former profession and choice of husband to the man who seems to be able to take all her present happiness away from her, whom she is said to be married to already and who conveniently is then removed. The parallels continue with other characters such as Stephen Crasster, who is a barrister and the detective in charge of the investigation, Inspector Furnival asks for his help, which aligns Stephen with the character of Robert Audley, who takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of his friend who disappears. Stephen though is also in love with Peggy Carew, Sir Anthony’s sister, who unfortunately only seems to see him as a friend. Worse is to follow for Stephen when Peggy becomes engages to Lord Chesterham, an event loathed by Judith but who’s own past prevents her from speaking out and which Lord Chesterham uses to further his own plans. An old flame of Sir Anthony’s also appears on the scene and who seems to have a sinister agenda of her own.

Meanwhile some of you may be wondering where Inspector Furnival has got to and readers will have to wait quite a while until he actually enters the story in person and even then he does it mostly incognito and like Inspector Stoddart is quite comfortable with courting servants to get information. But unlike Stoddart it is intimated that Inspector Furnival is married and if he has any negative thoughts on women he evidently keeps them to himself. Unsurprisingly life has been tortuous for Judith since the night of the murder and Haynes gives her no mercy, with events accumulating and conspiring against her and with the police breathing down both her and Anthony’s necks, there really seems to be only one option open to her…

This is a great novel and the mystery although not particularly taxing, is maintained by the many characters who have something to hide and Inspector Furnival is not the only person guilty of impersonation. The allusion to Lady Audley’s Secret is expertly executed and I enjoyed how Haynes reversed certain ideas, such as in Lady Audley’s Secret, Lady Audley’s guilt is unquestionable, yet in this novel the reader knows Judith is innocent, but is painted black with the seemingly insurmountable circumstantial evidence. Although I think the Stephen/ Robert Audley parallel could have been stronger, as although Furnival asks for Stephen’s help, he doesn’t actually seem to do anything. However, the focus on the characters and their relationships, especially Anthony’s and Judith’s is well done and this combined with the fast pace of the narrative hooks you into the story. As to the female characters there is your archetypal distressed heroine in Judith, which normally would annoy me, but in this novel it seems to fit so well and so naturally, that for Judith to be anything else would be unthinkable. Equally there is the archetypal villainess and the French maid who seeks to make a profit on her information. However, for me the female character I liked the most was Peggy, as I found her most modern or the least able to fit into an archetypal pattern, being neither a villain or a wet blanket. She makes mistakes but she owns up to them, and she is directive and active in her decision making. I felt it was a shame that she was pushed out of the narrative at the end. My only main criticism is that Inspector Furnival features insufficiently in the novel and due to the lack of personal information about him, he is the unsolved mystery of the story. Hopefully in the other Inspector Furnival mysteries I will be able to find out more about him.

Rating: 4/5

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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10 Responses to Lady Audley’s Secret Revisited in Annie Haynes’ The Abbey Court Murder (1923)

  1. Jonathan says:

    Glad that the Annie Haynes’s novels seem to be coming along well. The parallel with the sensation novel is once again interesting, though I suppose the downside is that the element of mystery ends up slightly weaker, insofar as the sensation novel isn’t especially interested in the puzzle per se.

    Would ‘Crow’s Inn’ be the next Haynes up for review? Currently debating whether or not to get hold of that or ‘Charlton Crescent’ first… Ah, yet another potential purchase!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m reading them chronologically so I’ll be reading the Charlton Crescent one next and then Crows Inn.

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    • curtis evans says:

      Jonathan, Charlton Crescent and Crow’s Inn both struck me as more in the GA mold of classical detective fiction. Crescent is I think quite charming and it definitely has Christie-esque elements. Crow’s Inn is about a lawyer strangled in his office and involves more of a middle-class milieu. It also jewel thefts, another outspoken American millionaire (is there any other kind), a couple of ministers, a typist and clerks, retired stage actress, etc.. The minister element reflects to some extent I think her friendship with the writer Beverley Nichols’s brother, Rev. Paul Nichols, who was the dedicatee of one of her books and co-executor of her will and also delivered her funeral oration.

      Can’t wait to hear what Kate has to say about these two!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. curtis evans says:

    This is such an insightful review, really enjoyed it. You describe all that plot detail so well and the discussion about Lady Audley’s Secret is quite illuminating. Haynes and Ada Heather-Bigg were part of a social circle that included a number of women fiction writers, so I thought the dedication quite interesting. Her first book, The Bungalow Mystery, was dedicated to Ada Heather-Bigg.

    I’m rereading The Witness on the Roof now, one of the standalones, and it’s definitely another page-turner in my view. It has a murder in the past (witnessed by a child), missing relatives, inheritance up for grabs, dark secrets–a sensation sundae!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed my review and I’m looking forward to reading the stand alone Haynes novels when they get reprinted. You’ve made The Witness on the Roof sound really good, so I think I’ll read that one first and I do love the phrase ‘sensation sundae,’ conjures up quite an image!

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  3. Pingback: The Crow’s Inn Tragedy (1927) by Annie Haynes | crossexaminingcrime

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