Since before the Norman Conquest, Herediths had lived at the estate known as the Moat House. The Herediths, to be sure, were nobility - but there was an undercurrent of violence, and their relations overall with the neighbors of their country home were not always smooth. Certainly when Philip Heredith brought his young bride to live there, it was not really surprising that the young woman, used to the pleasures of London, didn't very much like the place. And then, one night, when most of the residents and their guests were seated together uncomfortably at dinner, there was a scream and the sound of a shot...
Melodramatic? Perhaps. But it is the opening of a very good Golden Age mystery from an author I did not know, Arthur J. Rees. It's called The Hand In The Dark, first published in 1920, and it's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast. You can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
It is indeed murder at the Moat House - but virtually the entire household was at dinner, so the possible suspects certainly are limited. Nobody is hiding, and nobody is missing, so perhaps it is not surprising that the police, in the person of an eager young Scotland Yard detective named Caldew and his superior, Superintendent Merrington, quickly form a theory and arrest a suspect. Merrington and Caldew are persuaded that they have solved the case and arrested the likely perpetrator. And, if they can be faulted, it is primarily for following their instincts and – once new clues have been uncovered – resolutely refusing to pursue the matter further.
But the Heredith family is not persuaded, and they engage a private investigator, named Colwyn (not given a first name in this book) to look further into the case. He quickly uncovers additional clues – clues which, in fairness, were discovered AFTER the police had concluded their investigations. And these new clues suggest a very different direction that needs to be explored before Colwyn will be able to solve the mystery.
What makes this book work so well, I think, is Rees’s ability to write excellent descriptions of the places and people involved in The Hand in the Dark. His view of both the Herediths and of the police is, to put it mildly, somewhat jaundiced. Rees has many observations to make – about the enormous gulf between the people living in the moat house and their servants, about the bureaucracy of the police, and about the impact of what we now know as the first world war on the characters of the story.
The Resurrected Press has reissued The Hand in the Dark and some other books by Arthur J. Rees. There’s also a good and useful introduction to Rees and his work by The Resurrected Press’s editor in chief, Greg Fowlkes. I definitely recommend the book to you.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, The Hand in the Dark is my entry for the square (first row, fourth column) calling for one country house mystery.