Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt: Cat
The fourth Forsythe novel, The Ginger Cat Mystery (1935) is set in arcadia, the idyllic countryside, otherwise known as Marston-Le-Willows in West Suffolk. But as the title of the first chapter suggests this idyllic setting is to be disrupted, with murder. I feel W. H. Auden would certainly approve as in his article The Guilty Vicarage (1948) he advocates detective novels being set in the countryside because:
‘the more Eden-like it is, the greater the contradiction of murder. The country is preferable to the town… the corpse must shock not only because it is a corpse but also because; even for a corpse, it is shockingly out of place…’
In a similar way to the opening of Forsythe’s second novel, The Polo Ground Mystery (1932), the murder is introduced via the role of the newspapers in reporting crimes. We are informed that the recent murder has potentially longer roots in the past. John Cornell supposedly died of pneumonia, suffering from headaches, vomiting, convulsions and delirium. Yet an exhumation is urged by his blind brother David 6 months later with gossip concerning John’s much younger wife and the local doctor, Redgrave. This however seems to come to nought at the inquest. But is it coincidence that Frank, John’s son from his first marriage is found shot through the eye at the manor a week later?
Keen to beat his artistic blues, Anthony Vereker (Algernon) joins forces with Inspector Heather again to solve the mystery, with their usual playful and friendly rivalry; with Algernon being ribbed for his reliance on intuition, ‘the road to error is paved with bright intuitions’ and Inspector Heather assuming a manner of sleuthing mentor. Josephine Cornell, John’s widow becomes an easy suspect, as she now inherits the money Frank gained from his father’s death. But they were not the only inhabitants staying there that night, as there was Roland Carstairs, Frank’s friend; Valerie Mayo, Frank’s fiancée and Valerie’s mother. Also in a cottage nearby lives David Cornell with his daughter, Stella, who has a romantic past with Frank, a man by nature who was ever the partyer and enjoyed dalliances with women. As expected the relationships between these characters are frequently not as simple as they seem and many of them have information to hide. Aside from the peculiar place of the wound there are other unusual aspects to the case such as the recently oiled music room door, the fact Frank was fully dressed, though killed around midnight, oh and he seems to have gone up a flight of stairs after being shot. And as for those ginger cat hairs? Inspector Heather thinks them a mare’s nest, but Algernon is not so keen to let them go.
There are some interesting revelations dispersed throughout the novel, one of which places Doctor Redgrave in a very difficult position and in a way I think it is a shame this avenue wasn’t further explored, as it is a particularly intriguing idea. However, the real keys to the mystery come out at the end of the book and for my liking a little too easily. Yet once the solution appears to be revealed, the experienced reader knows that 10 pages to the end means a lot of things can happen, but for me the twist was a bit anti-climactic and I felt a little bit dissatisfied with the solution. One finds oneself agreeing with Algernon’s remarks about the mystery that ‘it was one of my most unsatisfactory cases.’ I think after attempting a very complicated mystery in The Pleasure Cruise Mystery (1933), Forsythe has gone for a simpler one this time round.
Manuel Ricardo, Algernon’s sponging best friend, only plays a passing role in the story this time, in contrast to the previous novels in the series, in particular writing a letter to Algernon which is supposed to tell him about Frank’s acquaintances in London but ultimately just talks about a thriller he is writing. This letter is expertly done from a humour point of view, as his plot is very much a spoof of the genre, with its various components excessively exaggerated. Interestingly Forsythe makes a reference to the murder of Jack Diamond in 1931, an American gangster and bootlegger. Retrospectively I think this reference ties into the crime to a small degree, but regardless it was a nice opportunity to find out about something you didn’t know beforehand.
The Wildean influence is much less present in this novel as opposed to The Polo Ground Mystery, but in my opinion I think the detective work in this novel is the strongest out of the first four novels I have read, in particular I think there is less repetition of ideas and surmises about clues, which has happened in the other novels where Algernon is allowed to theorise too much.
Rating: 3.75/5 (The lingering sense of dissatisfaction at the end caused a slightly lower mark, which is a shame as the detective work element was much stronger.)