Cannan is a writer I have been meaning to return to for quite some time, since I read Murder Included (1950) early last year, but unfortunately I have not found it easy to procure reasonably priced copies of her work.
Those of you who know your Ngaio Marsh bibliography well, will perhaps perceive a number of similarities between this book and a certain novel Marsh also published in 1940. It makes you wonder whether one or the other influenced the writing of the second.
In the opening of the book it has been 6 weeks since the start of WW2 and the inhabitants of one rural pub, The Dog, are far from impressed by the blackout procedures, amongst other things. Initially there is only one customer in the lounge of the pub, the local squire Mathew Scaife. Although there is some respect for him, due to remaining pockets of feudal instinct, he is by and large very unpopular with the neighbourhood. It doesn’t help that he is planning on evicting a number of people from their cottages in order to cater for London residents wishing to escape the capital. One such evictee is novelist Crescy Hardwick, a very self-willed, opinionated, daring and independent woman, with a past and who would love to dearly stab Scaife in the chest. I would also say that Scaife’s relationship with his two sons is also rather poor, as is his treatment of his home, land and livestock. As the lounge fills, the atmosphere eventually improves with games and jokes all round. That is until Edward tries to rouse his father, Mathew, only to discover he has died.
It eventually becomes apparent that his death was by no means natural, though certainly peculiar and it seems to have taken place in front of number of people, who seem to have seen nothing out of the ordinary. But are they all telling the truth? The case lands in the lap of DI Guy Northeast, who is not keen on being dragged away from the comfortable confines of Scotland Yard. As the investigation progresses, hitherto hidden tensions in the group of the lounge regulars is revealed and it soon doesn’t look good for Crescy, who is the Superintendent’s favourite for having done the murder. Guy though is conflicted and it doesn’t help that he is dangerously attracted to Crescy, who seems to break out of the expectations he has had of women up until his meeting her.
As with the other novel I have read by Cannan, this book incorporates the disintegration of the old aristocratic/feudal way of life, with the book’s victim being seen as behind the times and holding up progress. Due to the similarities between this and a certain Marsh novel the murder method wasn’t particularly surprising in some respects and it did take DI Northeast some time to cotton on to that aspect of the solution. Whilst the killer is plausible, I think the investigation I had do a sharp change of direction near the end, which I felt was a little jarring. However, the pace, writing style and characterisation of this book were very strong and adept. Cannan certainly has a flair for creating characters, who are engaging and interesting and not type cast. In particular I felt the wide range of female personalities was especially skilled. In addition it was interesting seeing how all the characters, responded to the issue of being called in. There is one male character especially who finds it difficult that he has not been called up. By and large masculinity is defined by physical prowess and manual labour – the more intellectual or artistic types come in for a little more criticism: ‘the weak, in Guy’s considered opinion, were ultimately the dangerous ones.’ So whilst the mystery aspects of this book were not perfect, this was still a very enjoyable tale and I hope to come across more of Cannan’s books in the future.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Flowers