I have only read one other book by Brock and that was three years ago when I reviewed the Harper Collins reprint of his title, Nightmare (1932); a standalone psychological crime novel revolving around a writer and his neighbours from hell. I thoroughly enjoyed this title and would definitely recommend it. Brock wrote 12 mystery novels in total, starting in 1924 with The Deductions of Colonel Gore and ending with The Stoat in 1940. Lynn Brock was just one of the pennames Alister McAllister used, and during WW1 he served in secret intelligence and the machine corps. He wrote non-mystery titles under the penname of Anthony Wharton. Today’s read is from one of Brock’s series detective stories, featuring Colonel Gore and having now read this book I think there is a lot to be said for reading these earlier books in order. Perhaps the most important book to read before this one is Mendip Mystery (1929), as it becomes increasingly relevant in Q. E. D. Early on in Q. E. D. the previous case is summarised in such a way that the Mendip Mystery is somewhat spoiled, or at least would hold very few surprises. To do the job properly, you should probably also read The Deductions of Colonel Gore as well, his first book, as two of the characters in that book play an integral part in Q. E. D. Naturally I did not do any of this, not realising the need to, and I was not confused or lost in anyway, I just don’t think I will be rushing out the Mendip Mystery any time soon.
Q. E. D. begins by introducing us to Dr Sidney Melhuish, who is called out late one night to see one of his more esteemed patients. It is a foggy night and he and his chauffeur have to make it across the Suspension bridge. They pass the toll keeper on the East side, (the West having none at this time of night), but part of the way across the bridge they stop. They have been flagged down by a man as his friend is ill. The chauffeur is told to return to the toll keeper to ring for an ambulance. But on his return the car lights have been broken and his employer is nowhere to be seen, nor the people who waylaid him. Further telephoning reveals that the telephone call bringing Melhuish out in the first place was a hoax and by 3am the Melhuish household receives a knock on the door. Sidney has just been pulled out of the river…
Colonel Gore is drawn into the case for two reasons. Firstly, he is having dinner with Sidney’s wife; a woman he has known for a long time and whom he refers to as Pickles for the entire book. (I have no idea what her actual first name is). Secondly just before Sidney was called out to his death, he had begun to write a letter to the Colonel, a man he has never felt the need to write to you before, telling him about an old friend of theirs. But who was this person?
The case widens out to encompass the death of a down and out, whilst closing in on a particular household. But can Colonel Gore and Inspector Lord home in on the truth?
I felt this story had an unusual starting point as our first impressions of our soon to be victim, Dr Sidney Melhuish, are based on the perspective of his young son, who finds him ‘not a very satisfactory Daddy.’ He is a man too wrapped up in his work and is too busy and tired to give his son any real quality time. Brock quickly establishes the emotional and relational dynamics within the family and to me it seemed like a more personal way to get to know some of the characters.
Our first glance at Colonel Gore also seems to follow in a similar vein. He is not a remote and aloof “Great Detective,” as his private detective firm is still struggling after its failure of the previous year. Gore not only seems vulnerable professionally but also in the arena of his personal relationships. Whilst Sidney is failing to connect with his son at home, Gore is having dinner with Sidney’s wife, Pickles. She starts off in the book as something of an emotionally distant and unattainable Guinevere, though Gore is no successful Lancelot, having decided against proposing to her all those years ago, due to his own financial insecurity. Pickles, (seriously what is her real first name?), probably does not endear herself immediately to the reader, as she is far from happy about Gore’s choice of career referring to private detectives as those ‘wretched hateful creatures who go sneaking and spying round area-gates and hotel-offices…’ She even goes as far as saying to him that ‘You’ve acquired a taste for garbage… the habit of the rubbish-bucket.’ (I hope she paid for dinner after those kinds of comments…)
The case soon begins to take precedence as we follow Gore and Inspector Lord’s sleuthing activities. This investigation is quite thorough and detailed, as it takes time for their efforts to start paying off. They don’t get an easy case to solve. Each connection in the solution is earned with a lot of hard work. The mystery has an open set of suspects, so a difficulty for quite a bit of the book is pinning or narrowing potential suspects down, and then proving their guilt. Brock delivers a good red herring and I was genuinely surprised when I realised that the narrative had hoodwinked me. Although in the main this is a police investigation, with outside assistance, the story also contains some thriller-ish elements, as Gore gets badly attacked more than once, with the first time putting him out of action for over a week. At this point Inspector Lord takes centre stage and his working relationship with Gore is something of a prickly one. He is not keen to take on Gore’s suggestions and is smug when he can see a way of shooting them down with a commonplace answer. However, Gore’s ideas eventually get the upper hand, though I don’t feel he and Lord get any closer by the end of this book. I certainly can’t picture them meeting up socially.
The ending lacked some surprise due to information provided early on in the narrative and the organised crime aspect appealed less to me. Though on reflection I think the setup of the central sleuths and the writing style reminded me a little of John Rhode’s work. I think those who enjoy Rhode’s work stand a good chance of enjoying this one also.
I’m not sure which Brock title to track down next. I have somewhat inadvertently found out more than is ideal about two of the earlier titles. I would be interested in hearing which other titles by Brock readers would recommend.