Here is an observation, nurtured by many years of reading a certain type of traditional mystery story: if you are a very rich, thoroughly unpleasant and miserly person, living in an English country house, surrounded by grasping relatives...well, if I were an insurance company, I probably wouldn't offer you much in the way of life insurance.
You'll be hard-pressed to find a better example of the kind of thing I'm talking about than in "The Castleford Conundrum," by J. J. Connington. This 1932 English country house mystery from England's Golden Age of Detective Fiction is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
In Connington's "Castleford Conundrum" (try saying THAT several times quickly!), we meet Winifred Castleford, a very rich and appallingly selfish and malevolent woman. She lives with a collection of sponging in-laws, plus her second husband, Philip Castleford, and her stepdaughter, Hillary Castleford. Others in the household (either as residents or visitors) include her own half-sister and the two brothers of her first husband, along with the truly awful, sadistic teen-aged son of one of those brothers-in-law.
The strained relationships are actually pretty clear - and, to nobody's surprise, there will soon be a murder. Enter the local police inspector, who is quite intelligent - and the local chief constable, Sir Clinton Driffield, who is Connington's series detective, along with Sir Clinton's good friend, Squire Wendover, who fills the Watson role.
One of the reasons I enjoy this book is because it really is a classic puzzle-type mystery, in which the reader is provided with a good many clues and invited to make what he or she can of them. Just before the final drawing-room confrontation between Sir Clinton and the suspects, he provides Squire Wendover with a list of what he says are nine key points in the case; follow those clues, he says, and the murderer will be revealed. Can you do it?
There is a new edition of "The Castleford Conundrum" which features an excellent introduction by mystery scholar Curtis Evans. He sums the book up this way: "If one desires to read a novel with a houseful of scheming, contemptible relations and a cleverly arranged murder of the one person with all the money - and what fan of classical English mystery does not - one could not do better than choose The Castleford Conundrum." I couldn't agree more.