The Murder at Sissingham Hall (2014) by Clara Benson

The publication history for this work is a little unusual as Benson, born in 1890, wrote a series of 10 mystery novels featuring Angela Marchmont and 3 mystery novels featuring Freddy Pilkington-Soames, when she was a young woman but never published them, seeing them more as a hobby. It was only after her death in 1965 that they were found and then published.

Update: It has been brought to my attention that this biographical info is actually a hoax or at least a creative interpretation of the truth, with the author being very much alive and kicking. Being one of these innocent readers who believe the bio at the front of the book I hadn’t realised.

In the steps of John Buchan’s Richard Hannay (The 39 Steps) and Christie’s Luke Fitzwilliam (Murder is Easy), the narrator of this story, Charles Knox, arrives back in England after working abroad for a long time at the start of the story. Various clues in text place this story as being set between WW1 and WW2, possibly around 1927, given some of the dates mentioned. Knox soon meets up with an old friend, Bobs Buckley, and his now grown up sister, Sylvia. This reunion leads to Knox being invited to a house party hosted by Rosamund and Sir Neville Strickland – the only snag being that Knox used to be engaged to Rosamund before the ruin and unfortunate death of his father. Other guests at the party include Sir Neville’s cousin, Hugh MacMurray and his wife Gwen and Angela Marchmont, Rosamund’s intelligent and mysterious cousin, who will step into the role of amateur sleuth later on. Troubles and tension are not far below the surface during this party and when Sir Neville’s solicitor arrives the atmosphere becomes positively glacial. And things hardly get any better the morning after when, Sir Neville who had been locked in his study the previous night working, is found dead; with accidental death being quickly refuted.

Often with these types of stories the narrator becomes a devoted Watson figure to the sleuth. Yet in this story Benson steers away from this a little, having Knox interact with all of the party quite evenly, with Marchmont’s sleuthing weaving through it. Equally I would not say we were really in Marchmont’s confidence, though this is not much of an issue, as I think most readers, (who have read the odd mystery or two), will quickly be able to identify the killer and a key element of the solution. Normally this ability to solve the case easily would really annoy me, but I guess I was in a more forgiving mood. After all this was probably Benson’s first mystery novel and therefore the errors she makes are ones writers new to genre tend to commit. Another new to genre error Benson makes is how she introduces her twists. The twists in themselves are fine, but I don’t think the reader is fully prepared for them. However to end on a more positive note I think Benson has a very readable and enjoyable prose style, her choice of narrator works very well and Marchmont, as a sleuth rather appealed to me. So whilst I wouldn’t strongly recommend this tale to the regular mystery fiction fan, I think I would give her work another try to see if practice irons out some of these novice mystery writer errors.

Rating: 3.5/5

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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6 Responses to The Murder at Sissingham Hall (2014) by Clara Benson

  1. Yes, I read this one when there was still some discussion online as to whether the bio was real or not. I love a challenge, and was determined to read it for myself and decide what I thought. It was an enjoyable enough read, but I wasn’t in any doubt it was modern pastiche. Presumably more books in the series are out now, but I haven’t seen them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I must have missed all of that online discussion. Now I know its a modern write, I can tell it is. I don’t think it’s very fair though to put such a misleading bio at the front.

      Like

  2. JFW says:

    I was looking forward to this review as I stumbled upon some of the entries in this series at my local Kindle store… But wasn’t sure what to make of them, as they seemed more ‘cosy’ than ‘mystery’. Thanks for the review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. cmikolj says:

    I was interested to see your take on this one as I read it a little while ago and found it pleasant enough. I’ve just read two of her novels featuring Freddy Pilkington Soames and those were much more entertaining. Although they are modern novels set between the two world wars, Benson has not made the mistake many other authors make of hauling in too much period detail in an attempt to add authenticity, which made them much more readable for me. The plots are reasonably fairly clued and not terribly difficult to penetrate but they make a good quick and undemanding read.

    Liked by 1 person

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