Today I am posting part 2 of my thoughts on the latest twofer from the British Library. Death Knows No Calendar is a non-series novel and nearly all of the detective work is achieved by amateur sleuth Major Tom Boddy and his batsman. Artist, Lydia Arundel, has a nasty habit of stealing hearts in her local area of Beckwood. Her admirers are often left dangling such as Stanley Hawkinge; an awkward farmer, whilst a passionate night five years ago has left Reverend Peter Swale-Reid in a tortured state of mind. Even our sleuth held a torch for her many years previously. Nevertheless, Lydia is married to an ex-actor named John, who is certainly made to feel his “kept” status. The opening of a bar in the Arundel home sees one admirer struggling with his guilt and another who seems to quickly transfer his affections to Lady Dingle’s niece, the lisping Honoria Preece. Though it seems Lydia is far from happy to lose one of the flies in her web.
It’s not long until Lydia is discovered dead in her studio. The door is locked from the inside and a revolver is found near her body. The evidence by and large points to suicide, despite the lack of a motive. However, there is the odd fact or two which gets Major’s Boddy’s mind casting back to his extensive detective fiction reading. Naturally it is not long until he realises that a seemingly perfect murder has been committed. But how was it done? And who, of course, did the deed?
Having very much enjoyed Death in White Pyjamas, my expectations for this read were raised. Yet in some respects I found this to be a weaker story. The characterisation, which was compelling in the first book, is less so in today’s read. At times it is even hard to take seriously, and on some occasions comes across as a bit ridiculous. The romance element handled creatively in Death in White Pyjamas, is depicted less imaginatively here. Although, perhaps the main reason for being less engaged with the characters is due to the dialogue used. Aside from a character with a bad lisp, (rendered phonetically in the text), we have rural and cockney dialects, as well as characters who have strong European accents or have the tendency to pepper their speech with repeated military phrases. At points this make the narrative hard to take in. However, Tom Boddy is a very competent amateur sleuth, given it is his first investigation and he does share some amusing moments with his batsman. Not only is Tom good at eliciting information from suspects and witnesses, tapping into local gossip, but he is effective at figuring out the mechanics of the crime.
Metafictional humour appears spasmodically in the text, to good effect, and one of my favourite examples is when Tom is wrestling with the “how” of the crime:
‘But it was hopeless, discouraging! Try as he would Boddy could not find his way out of the maze. The more furiously he attempted to sever the Gordian knot of this tantalising “How?” the more desperate and impotent he felt. He recalled with bleak nostalgia the brilliant coups of Poirot, Wimsey and Inspector French. Faced with just such a “sealed box” murder they drew their inspired solutions like a conjurer out of the air – a blinding flash of intuition, a chance memory, a dazzling gem of reasoning, and there was the answer, stark and inescapable, “in the bag”.’
As noted in the introduction this tale has two impossible crime elements; a subgenre John Bude did not foray into often. In fact, he only used it in one other story, Death on Paper (1940). Coming back today’s read though, I think Bude entices the reader by early on providing them with an unusual physical clue, which Tom is sure was involved in the murder, yet it takes him some time to figure out how it was used. The other “impossible” element is the disappearance of a car along a straight road with no turnings. However, Tom is on his game at this point in the book and he soon figures it out. I don’t feel this story is intended to be a whodunnit, as Bude prior to the murder includes an incriminating line, which points the finger fairly quickly towards a certain person, for the reader. It doesn’t take the Major too long to come to a similar conclusion. The hard part is finding the proof of how they did it, so I think this mystery should be regarded more as a howdunnit. In both this story and Death in the White Pyjamas, the “how” of the murders is quite interesting, with a leaning towards the use of mechanical devices. But I think the first book is written with a stronger prose style.
Source: Review Copy (British Library Crime Classics)