I stumbled across today's Forgotten Book by chance. Anthony Wynne's Murder of a Lady (1931) appeared in a dealer's catalogue a few weeks ago, a paperback at a very modest price. Should I bother with it? I wondered. After all, I've more than enough books waiting patiently to be read. And though Wynne wrote a well-known Golden Age short story, "The Cyprian Bees", I've always gathered that the consensus is, he was a rather dull writer. But I took the plunge anyway, and for some reason promoted this book to be read ahead of other more obviously deserving candidates.
I dropped lucky. Rather than being a so-so reading experience, Murder of a Lady proved to be excellent, and far surpassed my admittedly modest expectations. It's a locked room mystery, and I do have a weakness for these, but quite frankly I didn't anticipate that I'd enjoy this one rather more than some of the lesser works by the great master of the locked room, the wonderful John Dickson Carr. Carr was stronger on character and atmosphere than Wynne, for sure, but this particular book does work very well indeed.
We are plunged into the action in the opening pages. Wynne's regular amateur detective, Dr Eustace Hailey, is staying with a friend who happens to be a Procurator Fiscal when news comes of a murder in the vicinity. It's taken place in the castle, and an elderly lady has been stabbed to death. But her corpse was found in a locked room, and there's no trace of a weapon....
Another murder - quite unexpected - swiftly follows, and suspicion swirls around a small cast of suspects. Why were herring scales found at the scenes of the crime? Was the first victim not really a 'lady', but rather a very nasty piece of work? The second question is much easier to answer than the first. Another unforeseen murder occurs before Dr Hailey starts to figure out what is going on. I found this book gripping and clever. Wynne was prolific, and it may well be that this was his masterpiece - if not,, I'd like to read any book of his that is more baffling. As you will have gathered, I really liked this one.