The Missing Link (1952) by Katharine Farrer

This is another read which has come from the depths of my TBR pile (okay, fine it’s a bookcase – but only a small one mind you!). The Missing Link is the first in a trilogy of mysteries featuring Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Richard Ringwood, with the other two being called The Cretan Counterfeit (1954) and Gownsman’s Gallows (1957). The first of these is an Oxford-set tale, not sure about the others, but in this first book the university takes a central role. Katharine was married to Austin Farrer, who was a chaplain at Trinity College and later a warden of Keble College. He was part of the Inklings and both he and Katharine took care of C. S. Lewis when he was dying. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 2002-2012 described Austin as ‘possibly the greatest Anglican mind of the twentieth century.’

Rue Morgue Press cover for Katharine Farrer's The Missing Link which shows Oxford in the background and in the foreground a black and blue pram in a walled garden.


‘When two-month-old Perdita Link goes missing from her pram in an Oxford don’s garden, Inspector Richard Ringwood is asked to interrupt his courting to track her down. It’s a very perplexing case. There are almost as many suspects as leads, including a [Romany] woman, a mysterious foreign intruder, an observing young thug, a conscientious nanny, and even an eccentric don or two. All Inspector Ringwood knows for sure is that his chances of finding young Perdita alive lessen with each passing hour. With the help of his fiancée, Clare Liddicote, and Sam Plummer, a resourceful, of plodding, Oxford policeman, Richard explores every corner of this ancient university town, from its academic halls to nearby [Romany] encampments. […]’

Overall Thoughts

Whilst this book did make it into a Green Penguin edition, my own copy is a Rue Morgue Press reprint and as such has an informative introduction written by Tom and Enid Schantz. One of the things they touch upon is how Ringwood ‘was, in many ways, inspired by Katharine’s husband, Austin Farrer’. They write that:

‘Ringwood is 33 years old when The Missing Link, the first book in the trilogy, opens, newly engaged to Claire Liddicote, a 22-year-old recent Oxford graduate […] Their courtship mirrors that of the Farrers, who married in 1937 when Austin was 33, already well-established in his profession, and Katharine 26. But while there are some other minor superficial similarities, it is their attitude and outlook on life and to each other that Richard and Clare most resemble the Farrers. Chief among these attitudes is the sense that their marriage is to be a partnership. Richard may be older and more experienced than Clare, but he respects her intellect and her abilities, even to the point of solicitating her help in carrying out his current investigation. He is more interested in gaining her approval than the appreciation of either his fellows or superiors. He is never happier than when he can discuss a point in a case or in a book or in a play with Clare. They are two halves that make a whole.’

Having now read the book, I think this passage perhaps overstates the importance of the Ringwood and Liddicote relationship in this first book. I can’t say what things are like in the other two, but Clare’s role in The Missing Link, is minor to say the least, with her research in the Bodleian library not contributing much overall to the investigation. There are also huge chunks of time where she is off the page and invariably the biggest developments mostly happen when she is not around. If ‘partnership’ was such an important thing for Ringwood and Liddicote, then I would have expected greater involvement from Clare.

Nevertheless, the first third of the book contains most of Clare’s page time and the novel commences with Richard Ringwood and Clare Liddicote at dinner, having just got engaged. They are very much in love and are quite put out by the phone call at the restaurant from the police asking Ringwood to get started on the kidnapping case. So much so that Ringwood does insist that the police come to the restaurant to brief him. In the more couple concentrated scenes, I felt the pair were reminiscent of Dorothy L. Sayers’ Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey, in their level of articulateness and playfulness with language. Their romance is also amusingly contrasted with this brief vignette when they depart from the restaurant:

“Love’s young dream, eh?” said the fat Birmingham tourist at the table by the door.

“I wouldn’t know,” sniffed his iron-faced wife. “Not having enjoyed your opportunities.”

However, one of my biggest bugbears with this mystery is Ringwood’s persistent lack of convincing urgency, given that this is a kidnapping case. Added to which the sheer sparseness of police operatives involved in this investigation was mind boggling. It is only Ringwood who is on leave in Oxford and a local sergeant working the case with Clare tagging along at times. No one else apparently can be spared due to lots of bicycle thefts. Even the deputy Chief Constable is too busy to chat, at one stage, as he is in a meeting about the traffic problems in Oxford. Is this supposed to be some kind of insider joke? Satiric view of the genre? I am unsure but what I do know is how for me, as a reader, this felt very implausible. The kidnapping of a 6 week old baby is the sort of the case which gets given a lot of police manpower.

After the prologue the narrative goes back in time so we see the run up to the kidnapping, the various people who visit the baby’s home and we are introduced to the alternative parenting approach of the Link family. Mrs Perpetua Link at one point says that their parenting aim is for ‘absolute non-interference, complete psychological independence’ and as such her baby, Perdita, gets little to no physical contact and is left on her own for hours on end in the garden. Not that Mrs Link isn’t ‘simply longing to pick her up, of course’ but her reason for not doing so is that the baby care advice she is following from Mary Reed states that Perdita’s ‘got to be taught at once to deal with things herself, or she’ll run the risk of nervous fears later.’ Remember this is a 6-week-old baby…

I think Farrer is undermining this approach to childcare rather than endorsing it in the book. The Links’ do seem a little bit exaggerated for satirical purposes. The peak of this satire arguably might be found in this section in which Mary Reeds tells Mrs Link:

“I think it would be wise,” said her friend when she returned and related the incident, “if you made a habit of locking the front door. Because if you were feeding Perdita and someone burst in like that, it might alarm her very much. You know she is not ready for the danger element in her life till some months later than her present age.” [The irony of this last sentence is not lost on the reader.]

To which Perpetua replies ‘with some feeling’:

 “I know […] and also it would alarm me very much if it happened often.”

I think what gets me with this reply is how it concludes with the word ‘often’! Suffice to say I did feel sorry for Perdita and wished she had different parents.

In keeping with the limited urgency Ringwood demonstrates in this investigation, I found the plot of this book to be a bit scattered almost, in that it had some good ideas and some good locations/scenes, but that it did not come together as a satisfying whole. That said, there is some unusual evidence for Ringwood to work through such as a Romany woman’s prophecy. Ringwood is interestingly more believing in her prophetic qualities than Clare who is more sceptical. This is a mystery which involves a lot of disappearances as there are three more after Perdita’s and whilst the next two added an interesting complication to the plot, disappearance as a device is overused in this mystery and I think a red herring is allowed to run on too long in this vein.

The finale is also a bit overstocked as it begins with a theatre performance, but I felt the author forced into too much highbrow discussion which I don’t think added to the reading experience. Moreover, when the reader finally reaches the showdown, the narrative definitely changes tack and morphs into an over the top vintage thriller movie sequence, which is bizarre and unusual to say the least! It was not a bad element to include per se, but I don’t think it was as well-handled as it could have been. But for those who love the outré in their crime fiction, it might be worth a read. I have not come across anything similar in my classic crime reading to date. However, there is one very good linguistic clue, yet it is a shame it was not situated in a better book. That said if you clock it too early then the mystery might be rather easy to solve. So maybe not the best read, but an interesting one nevertheless.

Rating: 3.5/5


  1. “the deputy Chief Constable is too busy to chat, at one stage, as he is in a meeting about the traffic problems in Oxford. Is this supposed to be some kind of insider joke? ”
    Possibly. Traffic problems have been one of the main concerns – obsessions, even – of City of Oxford councils, the police and the natives since the invention of the motor-car. Similarly with bicycles, which used to occupy all the pavements. Students used to pick up the first bicycle they found and ride off on it. I read some years ago that criminals were going to Oxford dressed in official-looking uniforms, openly gathering particularly obtrusive bicycles and taking them to London for resale.


    “I did feel sorry for Perdita and wished she had different parents.”
    Did her kidnapper hold the same opinion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm sounds like it could have been an insider Oxford joke after all. Just a shame that it impinges upon the investigation, as with only two policemen on the case, the nature of what they can and can’t manage is affected. Regarding the possible spoiler, I don’t think the kidnapper wanted Perdita to have better parents.


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