The Hargreaves Advertising agency’s 25th birthday party, ends with a bang, when the owner’s eldest son is found shot in the library, which for the killer is conveniently sound proofed. Although there is the possibility of an outsider committing the crime, Inspector Bland from Scotland Yard, focuses his attentions on the party guests, which are either family members or company employees. Motives abound aplenty from disgruntled staff, to a secret wife who just so happens to be in love with the victim’s brother. Is there more to this than meets the eye? Alongside this we see the conspicuously suspicious actions of a man going by the name of Mr Jones. How does he fit into events?
I’ve had a mixed relationship with Symons’ work and unfortunately this seems to be one of the ones which has worked out less well. Primarily I think this is due to Symons’ own prickly relationship with the traditional puzzle mystery format. It is not a format he seems to be comfortable with, nor enthusiastic about. His employment of various tropes often feels awkward and I would almost say he sneers at the format from time to time in the piece itself and surprisingly through the detective, Inspector Bland. Bland himself mocks the motive suggestions he hears within the first interviews and I don’t think it is unintentional that Symons gave him that particular surname, nor that in the final scene where Bland explains the solution, everyone falls asleep including his assistant, (though not quite his reader). My other complaint concerning Bland would be that his personality doesn’t remain very consistent, meaning that some of the things he says and how they are said, as well as some of his actions don’t always feel like they quite fit.
An advertising agency is a prime setting for a murder, as Dorothy L. Sayers proved in Murder Must Advertise and I think Symons’ novel seems all the poorer by the comparison of the two. Symons is critical of such establishments, but such points seem weakly sneery, compared to the more sustained humorous approach Sayers took. Some may feel this is the final nail in the coffin for the book, but at times Symons’ approach to telling a traditional mystery had somewhat of a tinge of Ngaio Marsh.
Hmm perhaps not the best read, but hopefully I will have better luck with my next one, which is by an author new to me.
Just the Facts Ma’am: Death by Shooting
Calendar of Crime: January (3) Primary action takes place in this month