The visitors came streaming into the English holiday camp known as Wonderland, and with good reason: there were all kinds of pleasant recreations, from organized sports competitions to relaxing swimming sessions. All of this was seasoned with excellent meals and first-rate accommodations. It was everything a would-be vacationer could want, and at a reasonable price, too.
But that was before the practical joker who called himself (or herself) the Mad Hatter showed up. And suddenly Wonderland didn't seem quite so wonderful any more - in fact, it became downright dangerous. What you had, quite clearly, was a case of Malice in Wonderland - which is the title of an excellent late-Golden Age mystery by Nicholas Blake, originally published in 1940. Malice in Wonderland is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
There are several hundred guests enjoying the many delights of Wonderland when their enjoyment is severely curtailed by someone playing unpleasant practical jokes. A couple of people, for example, find themselves dragged underwater by someone with very strong hands who holds them there until they are on the point of drowning. Less deadly, perhaps, but still annoying: sports equipment is coated with molasses – or treacle, as the British call it. Are these practical jokes? Is someone trying to put the resort out of business with bad publicity? Or is the malice perhaps directed at a single individual or family? On top of these incidents, there’s an ancient hermit roaming the area, evicted from his little shack when Wonderland was built, who hates the resort and all its people; could he be responsible for the goings-on?
Desperate to uncover the joker, the resort’s resident manager agrees to a suggestion from one of Wonderland’s guests: hire a private detective. And that guest knows just the person: a brilliant investigator at the top of his profession: a Mr. Strangeways.
And so Nigel Strangeways comes to Wonderland and begins to ask questions and tries to fit the pieces of this puzzle into a rational framework. He and we will have quite a few surprises before Strangeways is able to sort out the relevant facts of the case.
"Nicholas Blake" was the pen name used in writing his Nigel Strangeways mysteries by Cecil Day-Lewis, later to become England's Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972, and father of movie actor Daniel Day-Lewis. As you might expect, the prose is highly literate, intelligent and witty, with twisty puzzles. The characters are quite well defined, sometimes endearing, sometimes exasperating. It's a fine classic mystery. At the moment, it is available as an e-book, but there do seem to be used paper editions out there that would be worth your while to track down. I suspect that you would enjoy this visit to Wonderland.