Friday, 25 March 2011

Forgotten Book - The Poisoned Chocolates Case

P.G. Wodehouse wrote a number of stories with a crime element, and admired Agatha Christie. She liked his work, too, and it’s a pity the two of them never collaborated. Had they done so, they might have come up with a book as good as The Poisoned Chocolates Case, by Anthony Berkeley.

This whodunit is a classic of the genre, which I first read many years ago. I decided to take another look at it, and found it was at least as good as I remembered - which is saying something. It’s clever and witty and quite unique.

Its genesis was a short story called ‘The Avenging Chance’. In the novel, written in 1929, Berkeley has the six members of the Crimes Circle (based, no doubt, on the then embryonic Detection Club) come up with different solutions to the puzzle of who killed Joan Bendix. Roger Sheringham’s solution derives from the short story – but here it isn’t the right answer to the puzzle. There are, in fact, two more twists in store.

In 1979 Christianna Brand came up with yet another solution. All this makes Berkeley’s point, that the solutions to a fictional mystery are potentially endless. I love the way he keeps shifting the kaleidoscope in this story. It deserves its status as a masterpiece of the Golden Age.


Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Oh, this is one I've heard of, and wanted to read, but never have. Time to rectify that, methinks.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This is an old favorite of mine.
Martin-are you still planning on writing about your new book for my series on April 7? If so I would need it a few days ahead.

John said...

Really enjoyed this when I read it for the first time only a few years ago. I managed to come up with the convoluted solution that Sheringham presents. Was surprised that one turned out to be wrong. But proud my mystery trained mind can think so deviously.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John, thanks. Very much enjoying your blog and reviews of obscure titles.

Anonymous said...

It's an enjoyable enough book, but like the Ellery Queen novels, I don't like the solution, no, another twist and another solution, no, that's not the end, another twist, another solution gimmick. Each new twist and solution seems to be more fantastic, unbelievable, unlikely.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Richard. Most of Berkeley's books have some variant of that idea, but he does it cleverly.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,
I just read this book and was pretty impressed, even though the suspense right up to the last page is almost unbearable ...
I would love to read Christianna Brand's solution - to see if it tallies with one of my two ideas ... Do you know where it can be found?
This reminds me of a French re-reading of Roger Ackroyd, in which a very different - and surprising - murderer was identified, with very convincing evidence from the original text.