Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murder Underground (1934) by Mavis Doriel Hay

Today’s review should entitle me to double points really, as my chosen title for Friday’s Forgotten Book this week actually has a murder set on a Friday! Not something I planned, but a pleasing coincidence nevertheless.

Murder strikes early in this tale, with Euphemia Pongleton meeting her grisly end on the stairs of Belsize Park underground station in chapter 1. Unsurprisingly she is not the most popular resident at the boarding house she resides at. There are also the niece and nephew to consider, especially the latter who spends most of the book acting as though in he is in the world’s shiftiest person competition and is really keen to win it. Inspector Caird is on the case, but the book primarily looks at events from the suspects and witnesses’ points of view, in particular the aforementioned nephew and the other people he embroils in his plans of fabrication. Amateur sleuthing comes from an array of motives and angles, with different purposes in mind, though it is a last minute arrival of information which correctly points the finger at the culprit.

Overall Thoughts

Going into this re-read I had fairly pleasant memories of this book, yet today at any rate my views are somewhat tinged with peeved-ness. Despite two diagrams and a family tree no less, I wouldn’t say this mystery was purely a detective novel, as the plot is far more propelled by the suspects who are trying to ineptly disentangle themselves from their lies and in some cases some suspects create a lot of subterfuge for very little good reason. Perhaps this is what made the second half of the book drag somewhat and for me the book could have been shortened a bit. The way the truth comes out about the case probably won’t satisfy the regular vintage mystery reader either.

I certainly didn’t plan to do a grumpy review, as in fact the opening chapters were a delight. The unsympathetic nephew character did not have undue prominence for one, but more importantly I was intrigued by the setup of the crime itself and the unusual choice of murder weapon. The information we get about Pongleton’s death is also dosed out effectively in small snippets. I also enjoyed the characterisation of the scenes following the death in which the boarding house guests are subtly vying for Pongleton’s preferred seat or are keen to volunteer other guests to go talk to the police whilst they continue hearing the tantalising gossip. In many ways these scenes felt reminiscent of a murder mystery stage play.

Rating: 3.75/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Death by strangulation

10 comments

  1. I used to get free copies from University of Chicago Press (years before Poisoned Pen Press took a over as the US distributor) of these BLCC books. This was back when BLCC was brand new, and vintage mystery reprints were a novelty rather than very common. Now with the unexpected and well deserved success of the imprint the readers expect grand things from them. In the early days BLCC seemed to be less discerning about the quality of the books chosen and leaned heavily on oddities like forgotten 19th century novels and authors like Hays who were out of print for decades. Curt hated this book and because of his review I never read it. In fact, I gave away all the free copies I received. (Four, if you can believe it!) But I very much enjoyed her Christmas mystery SANTA KLAUS MURDER (highly recommended if you haven’t got to that one) and started DEATH ON THE CHERWELL, but misplaced the book and never finished it. (I still don’t know where it went!) That one had a marvelous setting and some witty dialogue in its cast of student characters.

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    • haha I can imagine your book collection being quite a labyrinthine/maze of ancient Greek myth proportions, so I am surprised you only have the one missing book! I have read the other Hay novels, so may be that it was those two which gave me my pleasant memories of her work. The culprit for SKM is a satisfying one as far as I recall and like you enjoyed the dialogue and academic milieu of DOTC. Guess I’ll have to add these to my re-read pile (which may now be bigger than my TBR pile).

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  2. Thanks for the review, which makes me slightly disainclined to pick this up from my local library. I read “Santa Klaus Murders”, by courtesy of my local library – and I recall not being overly-impressed. 😐

    Have you read “Death in Cherwell” – and would you recommend it?

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  3. Hay’s other two books are fairly good, but I just could not enjoy this one. The nephew was so shady (and such a snob). The “endearing” young couple was incredibly rude to the poor landlady and Slocombe, yet we were supposed to find them charming.

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  4. Euphemia Pongleton! That name alone is almost enough to make me read it. I am bearing your reservations (to put it politely) in mind, but will probably read this eventually. I like a boarding-house in fiction (and chair politics is a great plotline) and I did enjoy Murder on the Cherwell.

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