Friday, 25 January 2013

Forgotten Book - The Ha-Ha Case

My Forgotten Book for today is another from the prolific Golden Age writer J.J. Connington. Its title in the UK was The Ha-Ha Case, but in the US it was known as The Brandon Case. Presumably the change was because ha-has were thought to be unfamiliar to American readers, but it's a pity, because The Ha-Ha Case strikes me as a rather nice title. And I love the fact that Chapter 5 is called "The Ha-Ha of Death"!

Once I'd finished the book, it was fairly clear to me how Connington set about writing it. He'd come across an arcane snippet of English law, and used that as a basis for his plot (as he did in at least one other novel I've covered in this blog). He then used his knowledge of ballistics, forgery and medical science to furnish the key plot trimmings.

These ingredients are very good. Not only are they pleasing, they are relatively unusual. The snag is that here (as compared, for instance, to the superior The Sweepstake Murders) Connington allowed plot contrivance to dominate the book. As a result it is rather awkward in construction, and the trickery used to disguised the surprise solution is not entirely satisfying. These are significant criticisms, yet the flaws did not destroy my enjoyment, because I find Connington's ambitious and sometimes unorthodox approach to be rather admirable. He was trying to do something different, yet play fair with the reader, and these are excellent aims for a writer of traditional mysteries.

Jim Brandon is concerned that his younger brother, Johnnie, is being exploited by his tutor, someone who is both rascally and idealistic (an uneasy combination, and I didn't find the tutor's characterisation too convincing). When a mysterious death occurs, the investigation is complicated by the arrival on the crime scene of an unexpected third party, who is introduced into the story in a sardonic  and politically incorrect way. An ambitious police inspector struggles to find the truth, but in the end, Sir Clinton Driffield rides to the rescue, in his usual smart and sardonic way. 


Todd Mason said...

OK...what is a Ha-Ha in Britain?

The Passing Tramp said...

Yeah, can't get much duller for a title than "The Brandon Case."

Connington took a famous real life murder case and adapted it into this book, altering outcomes significantly. This was one of the books he discussed with Rupert Gould. I talk about it at some length in Masters of the Humdrum Mystery.

Dorothy L. Sayers highly praised it. The original English edition had a brilliant map illustration on the jacket.

Martin Edwards said...

Todd, a ha-ha is a sort of walled ditch designed to keep livestock from wandering into the garden of a country house.
Curt, the Ardlamont case sounds quite interesting, and again I wonder about the real life tutor's personality.

The Passing Tramp said...

Martin, yeah, every American reading your blog was going, hey, what's a ha-ha! I can understand why Connington's American publishers changed the title (though to a really dull one), but personally I find enigmatic titles like this and the famous "Vegetable Duck" rather intriguing.

Mike Blake said...

I didn't think, what's a ha-ha, but I was 100% wrong in thinking it referred to the Nazi radio broadcaster(s).