It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Two cousins - who just happen to hate each other - decide to take a small boat on a rowing trip up the Thames. One of the cousins will be richer by some fifty thousand pounds if he can survive for another couple of weeks. If he doesn't survive, the other cousin will get that money. What could possibly go wrong?
A great deal, of course. And when one cousin disappears, the other becomes the target of considerable curiosity - not only by the police but also by the insurance company which may have to pay somebody fifty thousand pounds. But that's not all, as we'll see in The Footsteps at the Lock, by Ronald Knox, initially published in 1928, in the very heart of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the full review by clicking here.
Let’s take a closer look at those disagreeable cousins. One young man, Derek Burtell, is due to inherit 50-thousand pounds – quite a lot of money in those days – if – and only if – he survives until his 25th birthday. Otherwise, his cousin, Nigel Burtell will inherit. There is very little love lost between the two men. Still, to appease another wealthy family member (who may be on the verge of leaving Derek a great deal MORE money), the two cousins decide to take a small canoe trip together up the river Thames.
And then, of course, Derek disappears. Which is going to put Nigel in a most awkward position. Enter an insurance investigator, Miles Bredon – the series detective of many books by Knox – to see if he can figure out what happened to Derek, on behalf of the Incredible Insurance Company. Where's Derek? Alive or dead? For that matter, if he is dead, was it suicide or murder? There will be a great many difficult questions to be answered before everything is finally sorted out. There will be more disappearances, new stories about legacies and odd wills, some photographs discovered on an undeveloped roll of film – and a set of mysterious footprints at one of the locks along the Thames, right where Derek seems to have disappeared.
There is so much going on in this convoluted plot that the reader can hardly complain about not finding clues. There are mysterious ciphers to be translated, those photos which may or may not be faked, a careful consideration of timetables which can make or break characters’ alibis…all sorts of wonderful complications. It's a story told with wit and good humor by Ronald Knox, who would go on to become one of the founding members of England's Detection Club. It makes for a thoroughly enjoyable book.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, The Footsteps at the Lock is my entry for the square (third row, first column) calling for one book that features a crime other than murder. What crime is that, you ask? You'll have to read the book to find out...