I’m back after a day off! Thanks again for all your messages of support. I really do value your feedback and it's reassuring to know that regular readers have not become weary of these posts. Anyway, now for today’s forgotten book, and it’s a minor classic, Anthony Berkeley’s The Layton Court Mystery, first published in 1925 Berkeley published it anonymously at first – he was a strange man, who liked to hide his identity whenever he had the chance.
This is the book that introduced Roger Sheringham, who became Berkeley’s regular series detective. He was conceived as an antidote to the classic superman detective, and his behaviour is reprehensible in a number of respects. More than once in his career, he displayed a fallibility that would have made Poirot wince – in one book, his tendency to get it wrong is a crucial part of the murderer’s plan. Over the years, Berkeley toned down his portrayal, and he became a more conventional figure, less offensive, and more of a good guy.
Here Roger is a house guest at Layton Court when his host, Victor Stanworth, is found dead. Was it murder? The answer, in a Berkeley story, cannot be taken for granted. If it was murder, whodunit? The final revelation is clever and surprising, and you might say that it paved the way for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which appeared the following year.
This book was once very rare, so I was delighted when House of Stratus reprinted it a few years back. I wasn’t disappointed with the story, which in most respects has worn rather better than some other mysteries of the same period. For a debut, it was very impressive. No wonder that Berkeley went on to become one of the stars of the Golden Age.