Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The House of Strange Guests - Nicholas Brady (1932)

The house of the title is the home of Maurice Mostyn and the strange guests are the various people who he invites there to discuss private business.  All of the guests show up under aliases, and according to the butler Summers often forget their name and sign checks under different names.  The book opens with the report of the death of Mr. Mostyn who is found dead in his bath in a gas-filled bathroom.  Suicide is almost immediately ruled out based on the position of his body and the discovery of rubber gloves the maid used in a place where they shouldn't be.  Interrogation of the suspects reveals that they are all glad the man is dead. After some prodding from Inspector Hallows and Rev. Buckle (who was among the guests in disguise) we learn that all the guests were victims of an intricate blackmail scheme.  The autopsy reveals that Mostyn was poisoned with a rare toxin called strophanthin and that it was administered in his toothpaste.  After some routine grilling of the suspects the story takes an interesting turn when Buckle starts his own investigations.

He is fascinated with the household accounts, the manner in which the bills are paid, and three hidden safes in the Mostyn home.  One of these safes is custom made and its odd combination lock requiring two separate combinations (one with letters, one with numbers ) as well as a key piques Buckle's interest.  He tracks down the safe maker and learns several interesting things that only confirm Buckle's suspicions and eventually lead to the discovery of the murderer.  If the denouement unveils one of mysterydom's most groan inducing clich├ęs the writing and the story are lively enough to forgive Brady's lack of invention.

John V Turner (aka Nicholas Brady)
Reverend Buckle is one of the more interesting least known detectives in the genre.  He has an almost macabre interest in the criminal mind but is also an avid gardener and will often be found perusing the latest gardening catalogue which he always seems to have ready in one of his many pockets.  He reminds me of Gideon Fell.  In fact the last two chapters in which he more or less lectures to Inspector Hallows explaining the solution in detail and also eliminates all but one of the suspects proving that only person left has to be the killer is very reminiscent of the kind of lecture that Dr. Fell delivered in Carr's books.  This seems to be more run-of-the-mill than other Brady detective novels featuring Rev. Buckle all of which tend to have an element of the bizarre in the plot.

1 comment:

  1. The House of Strange Guests will be published in Italy in the near future (few months) by Publishing House "Polillo".