Red Chair Reads: The Hampstead Mystery

Another long-winded but fun Edwardian-era mystery from 1916: The Hampstead Mystery, by Arthur J. Rees and John R. Watson.  A mysterious anonymous note delivered to the local police station announced the murder of Sir Horace Fewbanks, a justice of the High Court.  But he was supposed to be in Scotland, shooting poor little birds!  Clearly not, since he was most definitely dead in his own library at Riversbrook, a bullet hole in the heart.  And the race was on, with two Scotland Yard policemen, Detective Inspector Chippenfield and his subordinate Inspector Rolfe, vying with each other as well as with the inscrutable private detective Crewe (no first name) to find the murderer.

And just who is this Mr. Crewe?  He is of course a brilliant young man of private means who took up detecting as a means of relieving his boredom at being a rich young man with no occupation.  Of course, he could have had a reasonably gentlemanly occupation as a stellar chess master, having been the only one to beat the Russian player Turgieff during one of the master’s famous simultaneous games against twelve different players.  But, Crewe broke all the old-time chess aficionados’ hearts by retiring and going into detective work, of all things — and him a gentleman of presumably impeccable lineage.  I love books where characters say things like: “I know I can rely on his word as a gentleman.”  Ah, the great class divide.

Lots of red herrings in this mystery: a couple of ex-cons, a spurned mistress (the old judge apparently had a weakness for young women, not all of them ladies), a K.C. on the outs with his young wife, a French mademoiselle . . . .  Rees and Watson piled it on, and on, and on — the book could have been shorter, but the readers of a hundred years ago would probably have felt justifiably gypped.

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