Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Countryside Scene
Next month, (7th March to be precise), sees the release of five Annie Haynes reprints by the Dean Street Press. Last year Dean Street Press reprinted all of Haynes’ Inspector Stoddart and Inspector Furnival novels and have now turned their attention to her five standalone mystery novels, originally published between 1923 and 1927. The one I am reviewing today is The Bungalow Mystery (1923) (one of the rarest texts handled by the Dean Street Press), but the other four are called, The Secret of Greylands, The Blue Diamond, The Witness on the Roof and The Master of the Priory.
The Bungalow Mystery begins with murder! Dr Roger Lavington is called in by his reclusive neighbour’s housekeeper, as she has found her employer Maximilian Von Rheinhart shot dead. But when she goes to find the police, Lavington is in for another shock as he finds a terrified woman hiding behind a curtain, clutching a package. Encapsulating the woman in distress aptly, looking ‘like a frightened rabbit,’ combined with a few timely words which make Lavington think of his dead mother and sister, her plea to be allowed to escape is acquiesced to by Lavington who allows her to stay in his house as the police search the area. Her escape, though rocky, seems to be pulled off as she poses as Lavington’s sister before making a mysterious exit. Evidence at the scene suggests to the police that a woman was there and when a woman who appears to meet witness descriptions and has papers connecting her to Rheinhart is later identified in a train accident the case seems fairly complete. These opening chapters can almost be seen as a kind of prologue and within them there are a couple of similarities with other texts. For example, it is suggested that the unknown woman was forced into going to the victim’s house because he was blackmailing her, which felt similar to the opening of another Hayne’s novel The Abbey Court Murder (1923). In addition, having a main male character trying to protect a woman which neither he nor the reader know is definitely innocent reminded me of J. Jefferson Farjeon’s The Z Murders (1932).
Two years later though, the case seems likely to be reopened due to new undisclosed evidence. This unsettles Lavington, who is now a live-in medical supervisor for his friend Sir James Courtenay, whose legs were amputated due to being in the same train accident mentioned above. Since the time of his accident Courtenay has refused to see his fiancée, Daphne Luxmore, who has become a recluse herself as a consequence. A chance meeting with her sister Elizabeth jolts Lavington considerably, not only because he falls in love with her, but also because she faintly reminds him of that unknown woman he helped. Discovering the identity of this unknown woman is of paramount importance not only to the police, but also to Rheinhart’s widow who is out for blood or at the least a hanging conviction.
As the narrative progresses the police and their evidence becomes more widely available to the reader, which is interesting in showing the reader how in the dark Lavington is in some respects. While the case seems black and white to Lavington who feebly attempts to encourage another escape attempt, realising his earlier subterfuge has become known to the police, the case is much more complex for the police whose evidence is much more contradictory in terms of establishing identities. However it is this contradictory evidence which helps to sustain the central mystery and not reveal the solution too early on, a problem which some of Haynes’ other novels have.
Who is the unknown woman? Will finding her solve the case? An arrest eventually becomes inevitable, but have they got the right person? The solution to the murder is a good one in my opinion, being concealed well. It might not be 100% fair play (though as I suggest below not in a bad way), but on the other hand the killer’s name is not whipped out of the hat and in retrospect the reader is reasonably well prepared for it.
SPOILER! – This section expands on my opinion of how Haynes hides the killer, but if you haven’t read the story already it might spoil your enjoyment of the book.
I think Haynes is able to hide the killer without withholding too much information because she used her narrative focus to keep the readers’ and detecting characters’ attentions away from certain areas. This may not be considered fair play by some but I think if she had not done this the mystery would have been solved far too early by the reader.
END OF SPOILER
Doctor Lavington is an interesting character as although prominent in the book he is far from being an amateur sleuth. The story mostly sees events from his point of view and it is evident that he more or less reacts to situations as they arise. He was occasionally a bit of an annoying character as his actions later in the book are fuelled by his own love interests and ironically nearer the end of the story it is suggested that his actions throughout the book were more of a hindrance than a help. This is unusual for main leads in detective novels, as usually their maverick but not strictly legal behaviour is justified in the conclusion of the case. In Haynes’ work there is a consistent interest on her part in sensation fiction, hidden secrets and thwarted romance. At times in some of her other books this has become problematic when meshed with a detective fiction plot. But this time I think this has been prevented in this novel by the fact that there is no primary policeman to focus on, unlike in her serial sleuth novels. As the novel progresses the police investigation is able to naturally become more dominant in the book without feeling like it has happened too late. Establishing identities is a fundamental aspect of this case and I think Haynes overall does well with this theme in the story and the fact it is hard to confirm who some people are, means the mystery is not dispersed too quickly. I did manage to guess one of the identity deceptions but this didn’t spoil the story for me, as at the time in my own head it was not certain that I had guessed correctly. Whether you are new or familiar to Annie Haynes work, I would definitely recommend reading this book.
Want to find out more about some of Haynes’ other works? Click here to read my other Haynes’ reviews.