This is the second Wade novel I have read, as soon after I began my blog I also reviewed The lonely Magdalen (1940). Having now read an early and late Wade novel, it is interesting to compare the differences as Wade’s style certainly changed a lot between the two books. The Verdict of You All (1926) is much more identifiable as a puzzle based mystery, with a plethora of clues, whilst The Lonely Magdalen is much more character based, including a large middle section which details the victim’s earlier life. I would also say in the earlier novel the style is much more matter of fact and the characters’ personalities aren’t closely examined, though I think this is an deceptive aspect of the story. The choice of victim, furthermore, in the earlier novel is also more conservative, a dead financier, whilst in the later book there is a sympathetic portrayal of the victim who has been forced into prostitution.
So as I said the victim in this novel is a financier called Sir John Smethurst. We are soon told that he has been acting out of character lately and that this might be linked to a mysterious visit with a man from South America. He is however very soon dead, having been found early one morning, murdered in his own study, with a blow to the back of the head. DI Robert Dobson is in charge of the case. There are lots of clues (not all of which are reliable) such as the missing memorandum book, an unusual cigarette and a shocking revelation in Smethurst’s will. Smethurst’s secretary, Geoffrey Hastings and fiancé to Smethurst’s daughter Emily, quickly heads the list of most likely killer. Yet Dobson is not entirely convinced, looking further afield for his killer, a decision his superior does not seem to agree with and leads to them taking matters into their own hands. The novel ends with a trial which like the earlier investigations is full of surprises and there is a tension and suspense as you wonder whether there will be a miscarriage of justice.
When I began reading this novel, having noted the matter of fact style (which reminded me of Basil Thompson’s work), I was initially worried the novel would become a dry puzzle. However, to Wade’s credit this is not the case, as the police investigation and trial are engaging and full of twists and surprises, the final one of which certainly caught me by surprise, yet in retrospect you could see how the solution fits the crime and evidence. It is very satisfactorily sneaky and the overall pace of the book worked well. What perhaps makes him a slightly weaker writer than Christie at her best is that in order to create the series of shocks at the end, Wade keeps the reader at a distance from the suspects. Whilst when Christie was writing at her best, she was able to create shocking twists and surprises, yet allowed the reader to get close to her guilty suspects without realising they were guilty. However, I did appreciate Wade restraining himself from including the overly emotional fiancée/daughter character in the book, which can in some cases become grating. Emily Smethurst thankfully:
‘Like all Lancashire girls, too… had her head screwed on very definitely in the right way, and, though capable of passion and even of romance, was incapable of anything resembling hysteria.’
Though I felt it a shame that these traits were not hugely capitalised on, but again this is probably part of the distancing issue I mentioned earlier.
All in all though I would definitely recommend this novel, as it has an intriguing and gripping puzzle, yet the investigation is well written and does not become dry or too exacting. Moreover, I think the twists and surprises in this book are highly enjoyable and make it a great read.
Spoiler Alert! If you have not read the novel please don’t read any further.
This novel was published in 1926 and as many of you will know this was the same year as Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and it intrigued me that there are a number of similarities and if anyone knows which book was published first, I’d be interested to know. The similarities lie in the machinations of the killer’s plan as both killers make it seem as though their victims were alive later than they were and actually kill their victims earlier, just before they officially leave the house. Moreover, both murderers also manufacture evidence to confuse the police investigation and some of which points the guilt at another person. Interestingly another Christie parallel of sorts can be made, as in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), it is essential for the killer that it is not known that they are in love with the victim’s secretary and that they are in fact colluding. Conversely, though in this novel, it is useful for the killer to have their secret liaison known as it provides them with an alibi for a later time period when the police think the killing occurred. Lastly the fact that legal justice is thwarted by poorly timed revelations added to the final surprise of the novel and consequently to my enjoyment of the story.