I keep telling myself, “No more mysteries with inane heroines!” And then I go and blow it. The latest: The Borough Treasurer by J. S. Fletcher, 1921. It started out promisingly with a description of the town of Highmarket, its mayor Mr. Mallalieu, and his partner and the borough treasurer Mr. Cotherstone. Enter the wily Mr. Kitely, former policeman turned blackmailer (a man has to eat, right?) who recognized Mallalieu and Cotherstone as a pair of embezzlers from 30 years ago . . . . Murder, of course!
Mr. Kitely is dead, strangled like a pig, and Mallalieu and Cotherstone suspect each other without actually accusing each other of the crime. Mr. Cotherstone tries to throw the suspicion on the mysterious Mr. Harborough: what is his alibi and why does he refuse to just come out with it? And why does Mr. Brereton, young lawyer from London, suddenly decide that Mr. Harborough is innocent and he simply must defend him? Well, OK, that last part is easy . . . . One look at Avice Harborough, and Mr. Brereton is determined to prove her father’s innocence. Meanwhile, Mr. Cotherstone has to make sure his past stays in the past, not the least because daughter Lettie is engaged to the wealthy Windle Bent, who is also Mr. Brereton’s best friend. And rounding out the list of unsavory characters, there is Mr. Stoner, Cotherstone’s clerk and neophyte blackmailer, and Miss Pett, a woman with her own secrets to protect.
In the end, everything is explained, even the lamest red herring plot ever. I do, however, appreciate the moral imperative that everyone gets what he/she deserves, even if the message could have been less heavy-handed.