Dr. Eustace Hailey is a specialist in mental diseases and an amateur solver of puzzling crimes. He is careful to note, however, that he only agrees to help the police solve crimes that interest him. That would explain why Dr. Hailey is quite willing to get involved helping police when Mary Gregor, sister of the Laird of Duchlan, is stabbed to death in her castle in the Scottish Highlands – but there is no sign of the weapon, when family members break into her bedroom. The doors are locked from inside. The windows are shut and inaccessible. There is no way that anyone could have gotten into – or out of – that room to commit the murder. Yet Mary Gregor’s body is there, alone, with a terrible wound that doctors say could not have been self-inflicted. The police are mystified. To solve the murder of Mary Gregor, Dr. Hailey will have to explain how a killer got into and out of that locked room without being seen. It happens in Murder of a Lady, by Anthony Wynne, originally published in 1931. 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.
In his time, Anthony Wynne was particularly well known for writing mysteries that featured impossible and/or locked room murders. Dr. Hailey proved quite good at solving such crimes. He was certainly faced with seeming impossibilities in Murder of a Lady. There certainly seemed to be no way a killer could have gotten into or out of the room where the murder occurred, yet with nobody hidden in the room, and no weapon that could have made what is repeatedly called a “dreadful” fatal wound, quite obviously somebody must have gotten out.
Many of the people living in the nearby village believe the murder is the work of an apparently supernatural being hidden in the waters of the nearby fishing village – a character called “the swimmer” whose appearance (always at a distance, of course) means terrible things are going to happen. In fact, as Dr. Hailey will find, the victim’s body will have a telltale sign: a small, silver scale from the body of a fish is found on or near the victim. (This is an important enough clue, by the way, to explain why the original title of the book was The Silver Scale Mystery.)
But Dr. Hailey is no believer in the supernatural. He begins by digging into the character of the victim – and it doesn’t take long before he finds that she was a truly terrible person, dedicated to manipulating and ruining the lives of many people around her. It is in those roots that Dr. Hailey will find the tangled motives for murder – and, eventually, the answer to the riddle of the impossible crime.
Murder of a Lady has been republished as one of the British Library Crime Classics series, published in the U.S. by Poisoned Pen Press. It's a very clever puzzle, and I'd recommend it to fans of the impossible crime genre.