Life's too short to read all the books that one would like to try. And it's certainly too short to re-read books that are somewhat disappointing. But my Forgotten Book for today is a title which I felt was a bit of a let down originally, but which I liked rather better the second time around. Perhaps that it is because the author was Anthony Berkeley, who confounded my expectations originally, but whose contradictory way with story-telling I've come to value highly.
The book in question is Top Storey Murder. It was written at around the same time as Berkeley produced his masterpiece, Malice Aforethought, under the name of Francis Iles,but it's a very different book .As often, the detective is Roger Sheringham, the most engagingly fallible of all "great" detectives of the Golden Age. Roger is outsmarted by Moresby of the Yard nearly as often as he triumphs over him. And this book is a case in point.
Sheringham, cheeky as ever, involves himself in Moresby's investigation into the murder of Mrs Barnett, someone who (like so many victims in Berkeley's books) dies unmourned. Her niece Stella is one of the suspects, and Roger finds himself attracted to her, while wondering if she is a killer. A range of other people who live in Monmouth Mansions, where the dead woman was found, also come under suspicion.
This novel is a good example of the way Berkeley liked to play games with the detective story. Not just the game of "whodunit", but tricks with plot and perpectives on the nature of justice. When I first read Top Storey Murder, I felt that the ending was a bit of a cheat, and I'm still sure that the nature of the resolution of the mystery is a key reason why this book is not one of Berkeley's best. But it's more interesting than I gave it credit for, the first time I read it. Berkeley set out to be different, and this is one more story when he succeeded in his aim.