Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Choice (The Polferry Riddle) (1931) by Philip Macdonald

Today’s read opens with a miserable wet and stormy night at Polferry. Ralph Trenchard and Percy Banner have taken refuge with Banner’s friend Dr Richard Hale-Storford, after they get into difficulties with their boat. Whilst these three are talking and drinking in the study, the rest of the household have gone to bed. Eventually Storford shows his guests to their rooms by lamp light, yet a horror awaits them when one of them sees a dark wet substance coming from underneath Richard and his wife, Eve’s bedroom door. On investigating the room Eve is found dead, her throat cut. Yet the police investigation does not get very far. Except from the study all doors and windows are locked and two Great Danes have run of the house, which in itself is fairly inaccessible. Whilst it might be a reasonable assumption to believe one of the four other people who went to bed at the same time as Eve did the deed, there is no evidence pointing at anyone of them. Gethryn is consulted but even he says to chalk up the case as a loss and soon goes off to Switzerland. However in the months which follow, two of the four most likely suspects die due to accidents and the life of a third has nearly been lost three times. Their fiancé is keen to avoid further attempts, believing they are connected to the earlier death of Eve. Whilst there is an easy explanation for why the suspects might be dying, it still remains to be seen whether Gethryn will discover the truth behind what really happened to Eve…

Overall Thoughts

I have not been having much luck with my Friday’s Forgotten Book choices this month. The book does start very well though, fast paced, straight to the point with a good dose of atmospherics. The characterisation is on the light side but the snappy writing style makes up for it. However, the good times don’t last. I think this is firstly because we don’t get first-hand experience of the police investigation into Eve’s death. For the first 70 odd pages, (which is nearly half way into the book), we, like Gethryn, have to rely on second hand information. Combining this with the fact that very little new information comes out of the various discussions and events, means that Gethryn and his cohorts have to almost tread water, having long simplistic chats where it takes them a month of Sundays to reach obvious truths. You might say that this is all a decoy, but in terms of the secondary deaths the answer is not particularly dazzling, though it takes them long enough to confirm it, with many thriller like pursuits – in fact in some ways I wonder whether Macdonald was wanting to parody thriller tropes. As to the death of Eve, it is considered to be an impossible crime, yet the final solution is a little disappointing. Given the initial crime setup, I had been expecting an intricate and complex mystery, but unfortunately it was not to be. So if you’re wanting to give Macdonald a go I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one. Fingers crossed my next FFB title will be a better read.

Rating: 3.5/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Retired from or in the armed forces

See also:

The Rasp (1924)

The Noose (1930)

The Rynox Mystery (1930)

X v. Rex (1933)



  1. Thanks for the warning… >.< I've one or two Philip MacDonald novels on my Kindle, and I've read 'Mystery at Friar's Pardon' by him under the name of Martin Porlock. 'Friar's Pardon', thankfully, was an intricate, even if somewhat long-drawn, mystery novel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah this book wouldn’t work for you I don’t think. Macdonald does tend to oscillate between intricate detective mysteries and more looser thrillers, whilst trying to experiment with the genre. Sometimes it works, other times I think the overall read is a little poorer as a consequence.


  2. Macdonald seems to be a bit mixed, though his storytelling can be good. The last one I read was The List of Adrian Messenger which was fairly enjoyable, if distinctly implausible.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As to the death of Eve, it is considered to be an impossible crime, yet the final solution is a little disappointing.

    A little disappointing? 🙂

    Years ago, I accidentally read an angry, spoiler-laden review of this book, but it was one of the very few times I was glad someone spoiled a detective story for me. The explanation for the impossibility and vanished weapon struck me as mind-numbing stupid. Especially how the police overlooked that one thing that allowed for the disposal of the razor blade.

    So this is one of the few locked room novels you won’t find on my wish list.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Macdonald is someone I’ve come to something of an accommodation with as I read more of his books. He seems to stray more into thrillerish territory, eschewing traditional clues and GAD setups, and for the first couple of books I read this irritated the hell out of me. But…as I’ve worn on, I find I like his characterisation and his unconventional approaches more, so although I’ll come ot this a little guardedly — someone gave me a copy for Christmas… 😉 — I’m interested to see how he fails here, too, because his failing at what I would like from his books is, weirdly, one of the things that keeps me reading.

    I know, I know, that makes no sense. Er, how about I’ll read it because it’s an impossible crime, then? Is that sickness any more acceptable?

    I like the funky redesign, by the way; I typically read ther WordPress blogs in the WordPress reader and so manage to miss any overhauls people do — so if you did it a year ago, this is why I’m only just noticing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • haha no I only did the redesign a week and a half ago. Still not set on the colours but I was having difficulties trying to alternate between choosing from set palettes and manual colour selection. I was ending up with horrible colour combinations which didn’t go at all so was just relieved when I got these two colours.
      That is a weird reason to keep reading a writer, but what with Brad forever returning to Paul Halter, it seems fairly reasonable. I kind of get it with Macdonald though, as he consistently experiments with the genre(s) and it can be interesting to see how the results of them.


      • MacDonald’s juggling of these disparate ideas seems to me too deliberate to be accidental — I get the idea that he’s writtne something which blanaces them perfectly and it’s just a matter of trying wnough of his books until I either a) find it, b) lose all hope and give up, or c) go full Stockholm and refuse to admit any flaws in anything he’s written. Watch this space!


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