Now here's an interesting mystery. It's a Golden Age classic, set in Oxford, England, in the 1930s. It involves the students and staff at a college for women students, part of Oxford University, at a time when the notion of providing an Oxford education to a woman was still a matter of heated debate. It revolves around a member of that staff who seems to draw criticism and controversy to herself. It was published in 1935. It's title is...
Wait a second. You're thinking that I must be talking about Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers, one of the mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.
I am talking about Mavis Doriel Hay's book, Death on the Cherwell.
Mavis Doriel Hay wrote just three mysteries in the course of her career. They were written at the peak of the so-called Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Death on the Cherwell is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
In Death on the Cherwell, we are introduced to several young women, all undergraduate students at Persephone College for Women within Oxford University. They have gathered at an old boathouse on the Cherwell to form a secret society. Its purpose (for all such organizations must have a purpose): to curse the name of Miss Denning, the college bursar, who has - according to the students - made all their lives miserable.
Their meeting is interrupted rather rudely by the appearance of a canoe - the bursar's canoe, in fact - floating down the river with - I very much regret to say - the bursar's dead body inside. And so begins a lively, quite well written (and well-clued) mystery. The students are concerned that a lot of the evidence, as it turns up, seems to be pointing to one of their fellow students. They don't believe it - or do they? They are determined to find out what really happened. And the police, though they are quite competent and pleasant themselves, are quite willing to let the young women do some of their investigating for them...
This is the second novel by Mavis Doriel Hay that I have read. There is one more still to go, sitting in my To Be Read pile, and I'm inclined to move it up and read it pretty quickly. I like what I've read of Hay's books and I do wish she had written more - she lived on into the 1970s, but abandoned crime novels after those first three. Her books quickly disappeared and remained out of print and virtually impossible to find until British Library reprinted them among their Crime Classics books. This edition contains an informative introduction by Stephen Booth providing more background about Hay and her books.
Death on the Cherwell is another of my entries in the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge under way at the My Reader's Block blog, and it fills the space on my golden scorecard calling for "One academic mystery."