Published by The British Library
Publication date – 10 January 2022
Source – review copy
At a costume party with the dubious theme of ‘famous murderers and their victims’, the know-it-all amateur criminologist Roger Sheringham is settled in for an evening of beer, small talk and analysing his companions. One guest in particular has caught his attention for her theatrics, and his theory that she might have several enemies among the partygoers proves true when she is found hanging from the ‘decorative’ gallows on the roof terrace.
Noticing a key detail which could implicate a friend in the crime, Sheringham decides to meddle with the scene and unwittingly casts himself into jeopardy as the uncommonly thorough police investigation circles closer and closer to the truth. Tightly paced and cleverly defying the conventions of the classic detective story, this 1933 novel remains a milestone of the inverted mystery subgenre.
Roger Sheringham has been invited to a fancy dress party. The theme “famous murderers and their victims” An amateur criminologist, Sheringham thinks he will be able to guess who each person is supposed to be. What he doesn’t anticipate is having to deduce who is a murderer when one of the guests is found hung from gallows on the roof. When he makes the mistake of meddling with the scene to protect a friend, Sheringham finds himself in danger of being the chief suspect.
There is a great sense of place. A large country house. A group of friends who have a history together. A limited cast of suspects. The book is as much as about the characters as it is about murder. The victim had issue with many of the other party members. She caused trouble, delighted in it. At the party she starts arguments, is unnecessarily cruel and courts attention by threatening suicide. The respective relationships with the suspects are as much clues and red herrings as physical evidence. Also Sheringham’s conceited nature is as much a foil to the investigation as it is a help. His decision to intervene to help a friend lands him in a position where he has to extricate himself from suspicion. He has to back track and admit he is wrong, which is plainly a new thing for him to admit.
Sheringham isn’t particularly charming. He has his idiosyncrasies and a feeling of superiority due to his expertise. The other characters all have issues and character flaws of their own, including the victim. They are snobbish, domineering or dominated, conceited and trying to do the social thing of keeping issues within the family. The intention of everyone involved is not necessarily to discover who the murderer is, rather than protect them from being found out.
An enjoyable mystery which steers away from the usual whodunit.