But first some mandatory plugging. Reprint of the Year (I still refer to it by the original, longer, and more specific title) is the brainchild of Kate Jackson. Everything you need to know about this years' contest can be found at her blog Cross Examining Crime. There will be two nominations from each of the twelve participating in-the-know crime fiction mavens. The first nominations were posted on everyone's blogs last week. Voting opens tomorrow, December 19 and the winner will be announced on December 30. Head over to Kate's blog to cast your all important votes.
Without further ado, Pretty SInsiter offers for your consideration vintage mystery reprint #2:
The Wintringham Mystery by Anthony Berkeley
- Berkeley, of course, is one of the giants from the Golden Age. Any reprint of one of his books is cause for celebration, especially in the US where during his lifetime very few of his books were ever reprinted. As far as I know only his crime fiction under his pen name "Francis Iles" was reprinted in paperback during the 1940s and maybe 1950s. Though many of Berkeley's books were reprinted in the US in hardcover (prior to the invention of the mass market paperback in 1939) I can't think of a single Anthony Berkeley mystery that was reprinted as a paperback in the US.
- Check out the nifty floor plan at the top of this post! I love floor plans and maps of the scene of the crime. Give me more of them in modern crime fiction books, please. Publishers and writers are you listening?
- The Wintringham Mystery first appeared in 1926 as a serial. A year later under one of Berkeley's oddball pseudonyms (A. Monmouth Platts) it was published in book form by John Long Ltd. As one might expect for such an early detective novel it's teeming with conventions and tropes that even in this early time were probably considered tiresome or predictable. Yet typical of Berkeley he subverts most of these conventions and employs fanciful and innovative ideas in his plotting that makes the book a corker of a mystery. Notably, for much of the book there is no murder! And when a violent death occurs -- once again typical of this inventive writer -- one never knows if the victim suffered an accident, murder or committed a weird type of suicide until the final chapter when all is explained.
- The plot features an amateur sleuthing duo of a young man and woman who eventually fall in love. It reminded me of the early Christie books of the 1920s in which adventure seeking Bright Young Things did battle with secret societies as well as the detective novels of Herbert Adams who always let his detective duos find not only the killer but love in the finale.
- Readers familiar with the detective novels of Vernon Loder and John Rhode might be excited to know that Berkeley makes use of a motif that those contemporaries of his would later use in numerous detective novels: death by devilish mechanical means. Like Loder he also employs a detective novel convention (one I have still have not revealed on this blog) that makes that death doubling surprising.
- Finally, though the book is mostly about a mysterious nearly impossible disappearance there is also a mystery about the violent death. The explanation for that death makes use of one of the Golden Age's hoariest of clichés and made me smile in the way that Berkeley manages to subvert that one as well.
Not enough reasons for you? Well, here's one more. I learned that Sarah Weinman also picked this book (along with two others) as one of her favorite Golden Age reprints for 2021. I love it. Great minds, eh?
What are you waiting for? Go buy your copy of this extremely inventive, thoroughly entertaining and 100% old-fashioned detective novel. It contains everything we love that makes mystery novel reading so fun.
I was looking forward to reading your thoughts on this one as the only other review I have read of it was more lukewarm. So I am glad you enjoyed it like I did.ReplyDelete
I very much enjoyed it. A real good ol’ fashioned mystery. I can always tell if a book has captured my attention when I take hardly any notes. That means I’m reading and turning pages rapidly and really into the story. I loved this one. It was a fun read. Not even the secret doors and passages bothered me.Delete
This was reviewed on the Beneath the Stains of Time blog 2 days ago, but I was unconvinced.ReplyDelete
Weinman’s article is behind a paywall.ReplyDelete
Sorry about that. I have a subscription to the Times so I never think twice about linking to their articles. Here's what Sarah wrote about the vintage reprints she enjoyed and recommends: "Finally, this year brought a bounty of welcome reissues. Those I rate highest [include]...Dorothy B. Hughes’s iconic 1946 noir novel, RIDE THE PINK HORSE (American Mystery Classics, 288 pp., paper, $15.95); the landmark 1987 puzzle mystery THE DECAGON HOUSE MURDERS (Pushkin, 288 pp., paper, $16), by Yukito Ayatsuji; and Anthony Berkeley’s THE WINTRINGHAM MYSTERY (Harper 360/Collins Crime Club, 236 pp., $16.99), republished for the first time in almost 95 years and a brilliant example of the author’s fiendish plotting skills."Delete
Your comments are illuminating. I think I need to go back and re-read as I had this firmly placed behind my other Berkeley reads of this year, Murder in the Basement and The Piccadilly Murder.ReplyDelete
I didn't know about BLCC doing a new edition of Murder in the Basement until too late. I have a 1930s copy of that book along with dozens of other Berkeley mysteries that I still haven't read. I might have chose that one had it not been for the fact that Wintringham... had been pre-ordered for months. It's significance in being such a rarity and the first new edition since 1927 was just a gimme for me when it came to nominations. I chose it before I ever read it! Luckily it turned out to be both a prescient and inspired nomination.Delete
Why did my review come across as lukewarm? I also enjoyed The Wintringham Mystery and liked how Berkeley dealt, or subverted, the hoary, timeworn tropes and cliches of the pre-1930s detective story. You can already see the mind at work that would go on to write The Poisoned Chocolates Case and Jumping Jenny, but the (quality) padding and thin plot makes it very far removed from his better, more well-known novels. I just wanted to let people know what to expect and, more importantly, what not to expect. Like a 1930s Berkeley mystery.ReplyDelete
I read your review and noted that you picked up on what I saw in this book. He's one of the great "subverters" of the detective novel conventions, as you know. That daring and rebellious talent is what makes him a pioneer and giant in the history and development of the genre. I love that he was always willing to toy with cliches and thumb his nose at those who preferred to uphold the supposedly hallowed and unbreakable rules of the genre.Delete
My apologies Tomcat! Faulty memory at work here. I just remembered the bit in your review about the plotting and not the other bits. I will henceforth refer to your review as toasty rather than luke-warm lolDelete
I can live with toasty.Delete
I read this on Kate's recommendation. I liked it, especially for its (intermittent) Wodehouse overtones, but I can’t say I liked the mystery part quite as well. TomCat's comment above is apt.ReplyDelete
The first Anthony Berkeley book I read was a Dell Scene of the Crime paperback reprint. It was 'The Poisoned Chocolates Case' and must have been published sometime in the early 1980's.ReplyDelete