Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Tombstone
I recently came across an imprint I had not heard of before, the Resurrected Press. Eager to see what authors they had reprinted, I was a bit dismayed when I realised how expensive it is to buy their books in paperback format, though if you are Kindle user then you could pick up quite a few bargains. Fortunately I managed to locate a reasonably priced paperback to try A E Fielding’s work out. Fielding published over 20 novels between 1924 and 1944, yet according to the introduction in my book there is some mystery surrounding this author. They used three similar pennames, Archibald Fielding, A E Fielding and Archibald E Fielding, which may imply a male author, but a scrap of information found in some papers suggests that the author was a woman named Dorothy Fielding. There is quite a bit of internet discussion as to who this woman was, as little else has been found out about her, aside from a known address in the 1930s. This is the first novel where Fielding’s serial sleuth, Chief Inspector Pointer, appears. Her earlier work is said to be much more puzzle focused and about the how the police track down the guilty person, whilst later works are meant to develop the suspect characters first before the crime is committed and the police called in. Suffice to say Pointer’s entrance into the book happens in a matter of sentences with his very to the point dialogue: ‘I am chief Inspector Pointer from New Scotland Yard. These are detectives Watts, Miller and Lester. What’s wrong?’
The answer to that question is no ordinary one when Pointer is called to investigate a body found in the wardrobe of a London hotel. The note left with the paper suggests suicide, yet there are a plethora of clues and information which soon show this to be an erroneous idea. Moreover, there is no shortage of suspiciously acting people and the two characters topping the list are the hotel’s manager and Augustus Beale, an American subeditor, who found the body. Early on a number of holes can be found in the witness statements of both these characters and they are caught lying more than once. There is also a mystery surrounding the victim themselves, their name and given occupation being revealed to be false. Equally it soon seems like the victim, Reginald Eames, was up to something secretive. Whilst trying to figure out what the manager and subeditor are up to and how they fit into what Pointer can only see as murder, Pointer also has his eye on a number of the hotel’s guests. Less than truthful alibis and midnight flits abound, including the mysterious disappearance of Beale. After a lot of hard work, answers to the many questions Pointer has start coming in, building up a picture of Eames’ life, as well as indicating a potential killer. Yet as a theory gradually emerges, Pointer is worried that it might not be the right one. Into this doubt and confusion comes an arrival from America, with a very different version of events. But is it the right one?
Murder in a hotel is a milieu which crops up in crime fiction from time to time. Whilst not scarcely used, it is by no means as popular as the murder set in a country home. Two other instances which come to mind are Augusto De Angelis’ The Hotel of the Three Roses (1936) and Elizabeth Gill’s Strange Holiday (1931). What makes it such an interesting setting to use is that it can make identifying a victim a more complicated business, as false papers can be put onto a corpse or the police can only go on what the victim said of themselves to others. Clues are not always reliable due to the greater number of people using the rooms and this also means that killers can plant a false trail. Hotels also give writers an easy excuse for collecting an unusually assorted group of characters, which you can’t always achieve as naturally in a country house mystery setting.
Pointer certainly executes a very thorough investigation, which even Inspector French would be pleased with. However I did feel that the final half of the book was overly protracted and it did descend into more of a thriller where we are less aware of what Pointer is up to, which differs with the first half of the book where we follow Pointer’s work much more closely. Consequently the pace did suffer a bit in this second half. Moreover, I would have liked a greater depth of character in this story, as it has quite a large cast of characters, but we don’t really get to know much about them. This makes the heroine in jeopardy aspect near the end of the book come across as a bit perfunctory. Pointer is probably the character we get to know the most and there are brief moments where we see him outside of work, talking with his roommate, James O’Conner. Yet their brevity and not always naturalistic dialogue again made these moments feel like a superficial gesture towards the detective and his sounding board sidekick. Though I do wonder whether this aspect develops as the series goes on. Due to the puzzle focus, especially in the first half, the final solution is pleasingly intricate and I felt the motive at the bottom of it all was quite unusual and interesting. Fielding also ends her story well with an enjoyable flourish of twists. So whilst it was a bit dry at times I think the book does show promise and I would therefore be interested in trying some of her later works.