|US edition (Macmillan, 1950)|
Charles Ambo meets Rhoda Wainfleet, a thoroughly evil woman in his estimation, who in the first sentence arouses this visceral reaction: “…he told himself that if she were his wife, instead of John’s, his thoughts would long ago have turned to murder.” Try as he might to warm up to Rhoda Mr. Ambo is bothered by the way she seems to control her husband, undermining his well being by preventing him from pursuing his love of writing, mocking his hobbies, and in her possession and jealousy seems to be literally destroying the man’s health and well-being.
Wainfleet draws Ambo into his confidence and reveals that he has been living a double life. He has fallen in love with another woman who is the exact opposite of Rhoda. Carolyn encourages his writing and knows him under his alias of “Roger Kirton”, a well regarded novelist. Wainfleet wants Ambo to help him handle some documents that will provide for Carolyn financially should anything happen to him. Ambo wonders if Wainfleet is in fear of his life, but the question is evaded. Ambo fears his thoughts about Rhoda are worse than he imagined. Should she ever learn of the existence of the other woman it would not only by John Wainfleet who would be in danger.
|UK edition (Hodder & Stoughton , 1950)|
Throughout the tale we are treated to numerous discussions of evil. This is the first book in a series that features Warriner’s three series characters -- Ambo, Scotter and the Archdeacon Toft -- all whom live in his fictional cathedral city of Tonchester. Last year I had reviewed The Doors of Sleep, another tightly plotted puzzling detective novel set in Tonchester, that touched on fundamental concepts of good and evil. Without having knowledge of this first book reading the Archdeacon’s beliefs in The Doors of Sleep came off as retro-medieval to me. But knowing that book is a continuation of the ideas set forth in Method in His Murder everything can now be seen in a different light. Here are examples of Warriner’s concepts of everyday evil:
“[Archdeacon Toft] seems to believe that the Devil has been released on parole, as it were, and that one of his minor activities may be to lure unsuspecting motorists to their doom by drawing their attention from the wheel at moments when all their efforts should be concentrated on driving.”
“You’re not telling me that you actually believe in the Devil, Mr. Ambo?”
“Knowing human nature as I do, I see no harm in keeping an open mind, [Superintendent] Tydd.”Even Scotter gets into the act:
AMBO: “Could you believe that there is someone here in this town who knows John Wainfleet’s torment as well as I do, and take an unholy delight in it? Someone who thinks of his downfall as a personal triumph?”
SCOTTER: “Believe me, brother, if you’ve been a dick as long as I have you wouldn’t jib at anything. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Devil put his cloven foot down the chimney and knocked the teapot right off the table.”
Later Scotter is less facetious when he gives this example:
“Remember that Nancy Cardwell case? Nice little kiddy—only seven years old. I was on the edge of it. They made out that Hanson killed her because she was identified with all the decent things he’d lost in his own life. Fellow’s in Broadmoor now. Oh yes, that sort of thing happens!”
The perspicacious summary of a child killer’s motive is telling and will come into play when the reason for Laurie Barton’s death is made fully clear. Rhoda Wainfleet is shown behaving in the same manner when she attempts to destroy a valuable Bible Mr. Ambo owns (he’s an avid antiquarian book collector) by throwing it in the fireplace. He can only see her act as one in which she tries to destroy anything that gives another person happiness. She strikes out impulsively, selfishly and callously. As bleak a portrait as she is painted Rhoda is not the only symbol of evil in this story. The culpability of all will be made apparent in the unexpected finale. While some of the criminal acts seem to be rationalized nearly everyone is shown to have succumbed to the “taint of original sin” Archdeacon Toft mentions earlier in the book.
Method in His Murder is available only in the used book market. The book was published both in UK and US hardcover editions but no paperback reprints that I could verify. No modern reprints are currently available in either print or digital format. Libraries are always a good bet, too. For more on Mr. Ambo, Archdeacon Toft and John Franklin Cornelius Scotter see my review of The Doors of Sleep. There is a bibliography for the entire series on that page.