A decision to take the stairs down to the London Underground platform, rather than ride the elevator with everyone else (yes, U. K. readers, I know, it's "lift" not "elevator") proves fatal for Miss Euphemia Pongleton. Someone takes advantage of the isolated and deserted stairway to strangle Miss Pongleton, using her own dog's leash. Her fellow residents of the Frampton Private Hotel, as their boarding house is rather grandly called, are horrified. Even if nobody particularly liked Miss Pongleton, surely murder was hardly an appropriate response?
That's the situation we find in Murder Underground, by Mavis Doriel Hay. Originally published in 1934, it was the first of just three mysteries written by the author. It's the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the entire review by clicking here.
Murder Underground begins with the discovery of Miss Pongleton's body on that stairway at the Belsize Park station on the Northern Line of the London underground. Her murder sets off a series of intrigues among the other residents of the "private hotel," along with members of Miss Pongleton’s family. The police seem a bit befuddled by what eventually seems to them to be far too many clues pointing in too many different directions. Ultimately, the residents of the Frampton all become involved in figuring out what happened, and why – and present their conclusions to the rather intelligent, if somewhat overwhelmed, Inspector Caird, who is in charge of the case.
This was the first and, I think, the least of Mavis Doriel Hay's three mysteries, all of which I have now read. While it's entertaining and rather clever, I find the general oh-isn't-this-fun tone to be a bit off-putting. There never seems to be much sympathy, certainly, for the victim. And many of the other characters seem lightweight; Miss Pongleton’s hapless nephew Basil, for example, certainly struck me as more than a little dimwitted as he tried to invent stories that would convince the police that he had nothing to do with the murder of his aunt. There’s also not much in the way of legitimate clues that might misdirect the reader. The solution depends to a large degree on coincidence.
Still, it’s interesting to see the author go about creating the puzzle elements of the plot, though it’s somewhat at the expense of the personalities of her characters. It’s certainly representative of a particular type of Golden Age mystery where the puzzle really was everything, with psychology and personality taking distinct back seats to the plot. As such, Murder Underground is interesting and enjoyable enough to be worth reading. It's been republished in the British Library Crime Classics series.
The 2015 Bingo Challenge
Continuing my participation in the 2015 Vintage Mystery Bingo challenge. under way at the My Reader's Block blog, Murder Underground is my entry for the square (sixth row, third column) calling for one book that involves a mode of transportation.