Friday, 10 July 2015

Forgotten Book - The Ingenious Mr Stone

I first became aware of Robert Player's debut novel The Ingenious Mr Stone thanks to Julian Symons' Bloody Murder, a book which introduced me to many fine writers and novels (if The Golden Age of Murder does as much for others as Symons' book did for me, I'll be more than satisfied!)) Symons included  the novel in a disparate collection of "curiosities and singletons" whose very randomness was, for me, part of its appeal. He said the book "is notable for the evident enjoyment with which it is written, its humour, and the outrageous (as late as 1945) use of more than one disguise."

When I first read the novel, I enjoyed it, but not in fact as much as I did when I went back to it, having allowed enough time to have elapsed to have forgotten most of the story. Perhaps I'm better able to appreciate it now. As Symons noted, the structure is reminiscent of that of The Moonstone, and two of Player's three narrators are, if not totally unreliable, at least not to be trusted in all their judgements.

The story is sub-titled "The Documents in the Langdon-Miles case", and it tells, or purports to tell, a tale dating back a decade or so, to 1931, and begins with a foreword written by Adam Muir, a crusty old Scottish lawyer, speaking about the deaths, in quick succession, of two sisters. Almost half the story is told by Sophie Coppock, secretary and bursar of a girls' school, and a fervent admirer of the head teacher who was the first of the women to die. Her account is full of tantalising clue which makes little sense to begin with, until an explanation is forthcoming.

That explanation is given by an elderly woman who is Sophie's aunt, and who "describes the methods used by Lysander Stone in solving the Langdon-Miles problem". We are not, in fact, introduced to Lysander Stone until the book is half way through, and this is just one of many unusual features of a remarkably enjoyable story. Julian Symons was a good judge, and this one is definitely recommended. It's odd that Player did not return to crime fiction until the Seventies - not long before his death - but even if his other work did not quite match the brilliance of his debut, The Ingenious Mr Stone is a great example of a very clever and entertaining whodunit..


Christine said...

It is great fun, isn't it? Moira (at and I are both keen on it and blogged about it recently.

Martin Edwards said...

Indeed you did, and a quick google search reveals that - to my surprise - the book has not otherwise been much discussed on the internet, despite the fact that Symons' words gave it a boost (and led to a reprint) in the 70s.

Sappho said...

This is one of my absolute favorites! The narrative voice of Miss Coppock reminds me so much of Miss Climpson from Dorothy L. Sayers, and I love the detail of life at the school. I have to say, I was actually disappointed when the ingenious Mr. Stone arrived -- I wanted more of the fascinating Miss Coppock.

On the strength of this one, I tried another Robert Player, The Homicidal Colonel, but couldn't get on with it. Do you know if there are any other Player mysteries?

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Sappho. Yes, Player published four novels in the 70s, including The Homicidal Colonel. I haven't read them, but tow are on my TBR pile.

Anonymous said...

They all had quite intriguing titles; apart from The Homicidal Colonel, there was Let's talk of worms, of graves, and epitaphs; Oh! Where are bloody Mary's earrings?; and The month of the mangled models. Read them all years ago but they were obviously not as memorable as The ingenious Mr Stone because I can't remember much about them. Some of them were published in paperback by Arrow and some by Penguin.

Clothes In Books said...

As Chrissie says above, one of my absolute favourites, and one that she and I bonded over! I am always surprised that it isn't better-known, and as you say there is very little written about it. I have read two more by him - earrings and epitaphs as you might say - which were enjoyable, but nothing like as good as Mr Stone. I am always surprised by the publication date of Stone - it feels like a much more modern book, although set in the 1930s, more of a pastiche. I re-read it every couple of years, and it always makes me laugh, and leaves me full of admiration for Player's construction, and the way he plays with perceptions of characters, and with unreliable narrators.