Source: Review Copy (Urbane Publications)
This is my third read in Guy Fraser-Sampson’s Hampstead series and my third review this year by the author. The novels in this series are certainly coming thick and fast! In various ways these novels have been writing back to an earlier mystery subgenre: the golden age of detective fiction, which definitely had its fair share of murders in the village and I think this is something Fraser-Sampson briefly plays with in his description of London at the start of the story: ‘London, while being one of the biggest cities in the world, is really little more than a conglomeration of villages…’ He goes on to say that these “villages” have their own identities, communities and atmospheres and that these have radically changed and evolved over the last century, a feature which writers such as Christie also commented on in their post war village based mysteries.
Although part of the Hampstead series, the scene of the crime is in Mayfair in a women’s club named the Athena, (which Dorothy L Sayers was a member of in real life). But before that we see Professor Fuller going into the club and for some reason her everyday actions are causing quite a stir. Her secretary screams on the phone when she rings her and the club’s receptionist looks at her like she is a ghost. But why? Well it just so happens that everyone thought she had died in her room that morning…
Events then go back in time to the previous evening when the club is hosting a vintage dinner dance and of course some of our serial police officers and partners are attending. After all Sayers obsessed police psychologist Peter Collins, is unlikely to want to miss such an event. When events arrive back at the present time there are many questions to be answered: Who is the murder victim? Were they the intended victim or is Fuller still a target? How did the killer manage to lock the victim’s room, leaving the guest key on the bedroom floor, as access to the only spare key is highly guarded? In keeping with how Guy Fraser-Sampson covers a range of relationship types in his series, the pool of potential suspects and their motives are tightly knotted around a polyamory marital situation, as well as a string of liaisons by Fuller’s husband.
In comparison to books 2 and 3 in the series I would say the referencing to the golden age of detective fiction is probably less overt in this story, though G. K. Chesterton’s ‘The Invisible Man’ is mentioned specifically. Instead I think the referencing is much more subtle, in that given the nature of the crime being investigated, (a murder which is not identified as such until a day afterwards meaning most forensic evidence is unwittingly destroyed), the plot encourages a sense of armchair sleuthing. You could also argue that the book has a minor locked room element as well, though the solution is not an overly complicated one.
The sense of place is as strong as ever in A Death in the Night and not being someone who knows much about London and its districts, I found the author’s side lights on certain areas interesting and charmingly written. I particularly enjoyed how he references P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves’ when describing the changes to Mayfair: ‘Sadly, were Jeeves to find himself in the streets of Mayfair today he would undoubtedly look around himself with dismay, as if forced to acknowledge an old friend who, since one’s last encounter, has made a distinctly unsuitable marriage.’
As the synopsis above suggests acknowledged infidelity is fairly pertinent to the case and I found it interesting to see how the different characters involved describe and articulate Andrew Fuller’s proclivities and the motivations behind their excessiveness. At times I felt the language used normalised or validated his behaviour, though there are some characters who are less than approving. Nevertheless criticism of Fuller’s behaviour is somewhat muted and understated. Perhaps this is a way of expressing the sexual double standards in society and in fiction which still exist, as I have a feeling that if a woman acted the way Andrew did, it would be far less tolerated and accepted.
This is a mystery with a lot of red herrings, however I did manage to correctly identify the culprit correctly early on in the book, less by actual proof and evidence and more by a couple of sentences here and there which helped me make the correct deduction/connection. Yet I don’t think this affected my enjoyment of the book too significantly as it wasn’t something I was completely certain about until the final chapters of the book, which confirmed my ideas.
Miss Christie Regrets (2017)
A Whiff Of Cyanide (2017)