Friday, 23 November 2012

Forgotten Book - The Sweepstake Murders

J.J. Connington, author of my latest Forgotten Book, 1931's The Sweepstake Murders, was a major figure of the Golden Age and this excellent novel displays his talents at full stretch. Wendover, a country squire who regularly plays Watson to Sir Clinton Driffield's Holmes, takes centre stage here, as member of a nine-man syndicate which wins a sweepstake ticket that proves to be worth almost a quarter of a million pounds.

The death in an air crash of one member leads to litigation from his estate which delays payment of the winnings. The survivors agree that the money should be shared out between those who are alive at the date of the pay-out. This is, needless to say, remarkably unwise, since it provides a compelling motive for someone to start killing off syndicate members.

One member dies - seemingly by accident, and that is the inquest verdict - afte falling down a cliff at the nicely named Hell's Gape. (I'm sure this fascinating geographic feature must have been based on a real place - does any reader have any ideas where it might be? The Chasms on the Isle of Man is the only similar spot I know.) Then another man dies - and again, it seems to be an accident, but we know better, don't we?This is a clever and gripping "who will be next?" whodunit of great complexity, with countless red herrings and gimmicks including faked photographic evidence and forged letters.

I really enjoyed this one, and I'd rate it as probably the best Connington I've read. Because he beleived in "fair play" plotting, he could on occasion be a rather plodding writer, but here the story is packed with incidents and characters, and it does not become bogged down in a morass of detail. The police inspector who does most of the detection needs to investigate photorgraphic and typewritten evidence - in a nice touch, which I very much liked, the culprit's approach to punctuation also plays a part in the unmasking. Strongly recommended for Golden Age fans.

7 comments:

Christine said...

The London Library has no less than 14 of his novels, but not, unfortunately, this one. Can you recommend any others, Martin?

John said...

This was the first Connington I ever read and nothing else I've read of his has lived up to it. The photography experiment sequence was a bravura piece of scientific detection. Way ahead of its time, I think. Though it's easy to figure out the culprit as the suspect pool diminishes (as I said in my review on my blog) it's still well worth reading. So glad you found a copy and enjoyed it. This should have been one of the reissued titles that Coachwhip Publications put out last year. Maybe they'll get around to it soon.

Frances Brody said...

Sounds a great read, must look out for it!

Martin Edwards said...

Chrissie, my favourites include The Eye in the Museum, Murder in the Maze and In Whose Dim Shadow. You may find some of the writing ponderous by today's standards, but he was an interesting writer, and man.

Martin Edwards said...

John, your review was admirable as ever. I'm glad you rate this one highly, as I do.

Martin Edwards said...

Frances, good to hear from you. As you've gathered, I really did like this one.

Christine said...

Thanks, Martin. Good titles!