Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Ghostly Figure
This is the third Haynes standalone novel I have reviewed and out of the three of them The Blue Diamond (1925) definitely stands apart in regards to the structure and the means through which the central mystery is investigated and revealed. In The Bungalow Mystery (1923) and The Witness on the Roof (1925), a police investigation is involved in the narrative, but The Blue Diamond, differs in this, harking back to an earlier style of mystery writing popular in the mid-late 19th century and the mystery is unfolded through some amateur sleuthing from family members but is mostly revealed through criminal confession. There are numerous tropes of sensation fiction to be found in this work including the idea of criminal redemption and repentance, which also features in The Man with the Dark Beard (1928). There is also arguably some elements which evoke Victorian melodrama as well such as the victim’s mother having dreams of her daughter which seem to suggest something about her fate, a feature which can be traced to the melodrama Maria Marten: Or The Murder in the Red Barn, a popular Victorian melodrama based on the real murder of Maria Marten in the 1820s.
However, this apparent lack of a police investigation was not detrimental to the story and I think it played to Haynes’ strengths, as it meant she could focus on her suspect characters and their emerging or declining relationships, without having to cram in a police investigation, a feature which is sometimes found wanting in some of her other novels. Consequently as this novel stuck to one form of mystery writing, arguably an older form of mystery writing found in the Victorian period, I think the narrative as a whole works much better in comparison to some of her other novels, which aren’t as successful, such as The Man with the Dark Beard which is arguably a hybrid novel combining both Victorian and Golden Age mystery writing. Though her novel The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929) is another of her hybrid novels which does work much more strongly. This is not the traditional Golden Age puzzle clue mystery novel, but this is not a bad thing as in this older writing format, Haynes’ storytelling skills excel and it was definitely a pleasure to read.
The novel opens with numerous romances declared or hinted at in the country setting of Lockford, such as the maid Minnie Spencer and her boyfriend the under gardener, Jim Gregory, who are carving their names on a tree named Lover’s Oak and there is also Mavis Hargreaves and Garth Davenant (no relation to the family mentioned in The Witness on the Roof). Mavis’ brother Sir Arthur also seems to be romantically interested in his cousin Dorothy, but as of yet has not been able to express his affection, nor has she been able to reveal her own feelings. Yet in a style reminiscent of Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White (1859), this last relationships seems doomed to failure, as after a dinner party Sir Arthur, his mother Lady Laura, Mavis and Dorothy come across a woman in white in a wood, who seems to be in a state of shock and has consequently lost her memory. But while she is recuperating at Hargreaves Manor it seems Sir Arthur has lost his heart to her. Is she an adventuress or the genuine article? Everyone except Garth thinks the latter. However, more mystery is added to the mix when a local nurse, Mary Marston, who believes she recognises the woman, disappears within the Manor one late evening on her way to Lady Laura to reveal what she knows. This mystery becomes more perplexing when it seems she could not have left the house when all the doors and windows were locked. But where did she go?
Days and weeks pass and Marston has still not appeared. The police make a passing visit into the narrative, with their questioning putting Garth under the spotlight. Was it his tobacco pouch in the library where Marston was supposed to be going? And why won’t he explain what he was talking to her about in Exeter? Meanwhile Sir Arthur is acting like a fool in love and is planning to marry Hilda, the mystery woman found in the woods (Hilda is the name found on her clothes), a plan which causes many of his family members great consternation. Yet Arthur ignores all their protests, determined to marry Hilda soon after his 25th birthday when he comes into his inheritance and on their wedding day he plans to have Hilda wear the famous Blue Diamond necklace, a jewel so rare and valuable it was shown at The Great Exhibition and is kept safe in a strong room and safe which uses a letter code. Will Hilda’s true identity ever be found out? Is she a wronged heroine or is she a villainess? Why is Minnie acting so suspiciously? And is Marston’s ghost genuinely haunting the local wood? It will take two nights and two dramatic events to fully reveal the answers to all the mysteries this book holds, but will the innocent characters be able to pick up all the pieces afterwards?
I am not sure that the mysteries at the heart of this novel are that complicated or difficult to solve, although there are some aspects that I doubt the reader will fathom until they are disclosed to them, but I don’t think this hugely matters as this is a novel to be read for its narrative voice, characterisation and compelling storytelling abilities, which wants to make you keep turning the page. This is certainly a story which readers who also enjoy Victorian literature will appreciate, but I also think the novel could provide others readers a welcome change in style.