Monday, March 18, 2013

IN BRIEF: Ebenezer Investigates - Nicholas Brady

The locals of Dowerby would like a new parish hall and they turn to the charismatic Reverend Ebenezer Buckle who in the past has been quite talented in getting multiple fundraising projects going. Among the many ideas that bring in money are raffles, whist drives, benefit concerts, and -- as their last straw attempt -- door-to-door collections.  The entire congregation decides to hold a full-out church fete and bazaar to get the final couple of thousand for a down payment for the architect.

During a treasure hunt which takes participants on a scramble throughout the village by following clues in riddle form Rev. Buckle discovers the body of Constance Bell. The young lady had just visited his booth where he was selling a variety of wildflowers grown in his garden. She cannot have been dead for long. Constance is found face down in a creek near a foot bridge and has been stabbed in the throat. Suspicion immediately falls on the young man she was seen with earlier at the fete. Investigation leads police to believe that Constance was promiscuous and had a variety of men paying attention to her. Rev. Buckle disbelieves these assumptions and sets about to clear Constance's name and uncover the truth behind her violent death.

Buckle comes across more like Father Brown in this book than in any other. This is the mystery novel as morality play with a decidedly modern twist. Theology takes center stage as Buckle is seen preaching from the pulpit several times a facet of his life absent from the other two books I read in the series. Thankfully, the preaching is never heavy handed. The murder investigation soon focuses on adultery and promiscuity in the lives of two key women characters. Forgiveness and compassion are the ultimate lessons Buckle attempts to teach by the end of the novel. 

Detection for the most part is very good with an emphasis on human nature observations rather than physical evidence. Buckle must do a lot of inductive reasoning and a bit of guesswork . Several times over the course of the book he points out that the killer seems to have made the crime a lot more difficult than it should have been. Constance's belongings, for example, are strewn throughout the fields near the scene of the murder. It takes days to locate all the items she was seen carrying away from the church bazaar. Why did the killer do this, Buckle wonders?  Why not just leave where she was? Buckle is convinced he is dealing with a murderer who is too smart for his own good. But with little real evidence at hand and conceited and overly self-assured murderer, Buckle finds himself forced to do what any law officer would find unethical. He manufactures evidence and lays a trap which he hopes will trick the murderer into revealing himself and thereby confessing to the crime.

There is a good bit of misdirection in the story as well. The sex aspect of the book seems very advanced for a detective novel of the early 1930s.  Readers of the time were probably easily fooled by Brady's clever way of making the case appear to be about one person when in fact all the clues really point to another, but a contemporary reader will probably catch on to the trick fairly quickly. It is difficult to see this book in the light of the 1930s because of the fallen woman cliche that crops up repeatedly in the story. Two of the women are portrayed as "wicked" who out of loneliness turn to the arms of attractive and virile men, ironically the real weaklings and cowards of the book. But like the murder victim in Murder Among Friends reviewed here last week it is hard not to feel some sympathy for the Constance and her mother in this book.

Chances are you will not be able to locate a copy of Ebenezer Investigates (1934) very easily.  It took me almost 15 years to find mine. It purchased it from an online UK bookseller and I paid close to $85 including shipping to get it over here. Currently, there are no copies for sale on the internet. Good luck in your search. I'm still trying to find a copy of Week-end Murder and Coupons for Death, the the last two books featuring Reverend Buckle. But I fear I may never find either book.

Previously reviewed books by Nicholas Brady are The House of Strange Guests and Fair Murder.

4 comments:

  1. Another author I have never ever heard of (though that is nothing new). Somehow or the other, I am not very fond of books in which a trap is laid down to catch the criminal.

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    1. It may seem like a cheat in a fair play detective novel , but in the context of this story the trap is excusable. There's a moral point to it.

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  2. You have reviewed another interesting book and author, and I do like clerical mysteries. It seems like it would be hard to find mysteries by this author... I did check out your other reviews. So I will just be on the lookout in case I every luck into one.

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  3. Maybe Oleander Press will do a reprint of it, or of one of Brady's books.

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