It has been a while since I have read anything by Wade, but a fortuitous charity shop visit gave me some lucky finds and this is one of them. The story opens with a tennis party. Gerald Sterron is staying with his brother and his wife, Herbert and Griselda, after having spent many years working abroad. However even a casual visitor such as Sir James Hamsted can see that Herbert and Griselda’s marriage is far from happy, with Griselda becoming awfully chummy with the adventurous and unconventional Sir Carle Venning. Many years ago Herbert mysteriously resigned his commission and removed Griselda and his wife from their busy London social world to his rural ancestral home. Although Herbert shows little interest in his wife nowadays that doesn’t stop him from being maddeningly jealous of his wife and Venning. He hints at various schemes he has to thwart them and we are not surprised that his brother is rather worried about him. We are also not surprised that the next morning Herbert is found hanging in his study. The evidence initially seems very much in favour of this being a case of suicide. Superintendent Dawle is not entirely convinced, but his superior is not agreeable to him interrogating some of the county’s most important people. However later events free Dawle’s hands to investigate, even if he has to work alongside an inspector from Scotland Yard.
Given that this is one of Wade’s earlier novels there is still a very strong focus on the puzzle element of the mystery. Clues are given to the reader to work with, though Wade does not always provide an immediate interpretation, as for instance Superintendent Dawle tells his sergeant to look at a mark made on the curtain pole Herbert was hanging from. However Gable is not that bright and doesn’t get the significance, after all he ‘was not qualifying for the role of Watson.’ Yet Dawle does not fill in the missing information at this point. It is left unsaid and it is up to the reader to see what Dawle meant. This is a thoroughly investigated case, as there are a number of unbreakable alibis to go into, but I think Wade writes about it engagingly and I think it helped having two detectives to follow.
Whilst this is definitely a puzzle focused novel, I still think it can be seen as a transitioning text for Wade between his puzzle focused novels and his character ones. Character depictions although not always long are insightful, especially in the opening chapters, where Griselda’s clothes are allowed to be representative of her mood or emotions. Furthermore, the gardens of Ferris house can be read as symbolic of Griselda and Herbert’s marriage:
‘A glance at the garden was sufficient hint of the shadow which overhung the fine old house. Weed-encumbered beds and paths, untrimmed edges, overgrown shrubberies, told their tale of straitened means – or neglect sprung from a broken spirit.’
Some which intrigued me when reading this book was the inclusion of Herbert having a marital health issue. It is very euphemistically discussed so it is hard to determine the exact nature of the problem and in the light of the book’s final solution I am still somewhat puzzled. [This isn’t a spoiler as the link to the solution is quite slight.] Nevertheless it was quite interesting to see such a problem even being included in a golden age detective fiction novel.
Although quite a long story, 300 pages, I think Wade maintains the mystery effectively, with many moments of gentle comedy and the solution did catch me by surprise. Once I got my head around the solution though there was a definite “oh of course aren’t I a complete nitwit” sort of moment. This was an enjoyable return to Wade and I look forward to reading the other two books of his I have soon.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Curtain