When it comes to mystery fiction, I am a sucker for a good challenge. As many of my readers know, my favorite type of story is the puzzle mystery, where the author provides liberal, rational and fair - if very well hidden - clues which should give me a chance to solve the mystery with, or even ahead of, the detective. The fact that I can rarely do so is undoubtedly a character flaw on my part, but it doesn't keep me from relishing the challenge.
And so it is with "Policeman in Armour," a 1937 mystery by Rupert Penny and a classic of Britain's Golden Age of Detective Fiction. It is the subject of this week's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Here's the situation: a former judge, Sir Raymond Everett, is stabbed to death in his English country house. All the evidence appears to point to the dead man's niece - it seems impossible that anyone else could have entered Everett's bedroom without her knowledge. Chief Inspector Beale, however, is not convinced, even though his superiors want him to arrest the young woman. He becomes - not exactly a knight in shining armor, but rather, as the title has it, a Policeman in Armour." And his investigation turns up some very interesting complications.
What sells the book to me, however, as I said, is the challenge, issued to the reader quite directly from the author. Before we reach the final summing-up, the final twists and turns of the plot, Penny challenges us head-on:
"Who stabbed Sir Raymond Everett? How was the murder carried out? These are not unfair questions, the answers being discoverable from the foregoing evidence. It is hoped that at least one reader in ten will give five minutes’ attention to the matter, and more than one in a hundred do so with satisfactory results. There is not much point in setting a problem that nobody can solve except the setter and his puppets."
I will admit that he fooled me. The clues are, indeed, there - when you know where to look. And that's what makes these stories so irresistable to me; I always vow that I won't be fooled that way again...and yet I almost always am. Will you be the one in ten? Or, better yet, the one in a hundred? Good luck!