Showing posts with label Herbert Adams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Herbert Adams. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Crime in the Dutch Garden - Herbert Adams

I lied. I said I was going to write up a Neglected Detectives entry on Jimmie Haswell, but this book is so rich and different that I had to give it special attention. Also, the three books I ordered by Herbert Adams turned out to be books without Haswell which threw a wrench into my plan to write up about three or four books with Haswell as the protagonist. What surprised me most about Crime in the Dutch Garden (1930) is that it is one of the few examples where the addition of multiple love stories works because love and the refusal of love are at the very core of the many mysteries of the plot.

Haswell visits newlywed cousin Donald and his wife Nancy (they both appeared in The Golden Ape, the book the immediately precedes this one in Adam's bibliography) and is asked to help solve the violent murder of Annabelle Querdling. She was found crushed to death by the statue of a satyr, something that will prove to be an ironic death when Haswell learns more about her personality.

Previously, Miss Querdling's niece Evelyn and her fiance Lionel Duckworth, visited Haswell to discuss the receipt of anonymous letters threatening Miss Querdling's life. Haswell wonders if her death a culmination of those threats. A chauffeur with a volatile temper is suspected. He had recently been sacked for showing an romantic interest in Miss Querdling's maid. Haswell soon learns that not only did Miss Querdling disapprove of the romance, but she has a neurotic antipathy for all romantic attachments and especially to the idea of marriage. Her revulsion of marriage is so far gone that she wants to prevent even her two nieces ever being happy with a husband and had plans to rewrite her will so that none of her money would go to the women if they were to marry. But the will has gone missing and thorough searches have turned up nothing.

Haswell is first and foremost a lawyer by profession. Similar to the stories by Melville Davisson Post featuring his devious lawyer Randolph Mason strange quirks in the law come into play in several of Herbert Adams' detective novels. The legal issues surrounding the withdrawal of an inheritance if a legatee were to marry are discussed at length and were a very interesting insight into British law.

The usual action thriller elements of Adams' early work give way to stronger character studies and a thematic exploration of love and marriage in the context of a criminal investigation. We learn that Evelyn is determined to marry Lionel despite her aunt's protestations. Her sister, Marjorie, on the other hand honors the aunt's wishes by remaining unattached. But who is Marjorie sneaking off to meet in the garden? It seems she has more to hide than Evelyn. Even the lives of the servants are affected by Annabelle Querdling's strange anti-romance obsession. Haswell's scenes with Janet, the maid who was engaged to marry the chauffeur, are some of the most poignant in the book. He has quite a humane and compassionate touch in dealing with the sensitive aspects in this investigation as opposed to the colder police methods of Supt. Richmond.

Detection, too, is on ample display in this book. Haswell and Supt. Richmond spend plenty of time going over the crime scenes discovering that a bench had been moved to better allow for an accurate hit when the statue was toppled. The statue itself is thoroughly examined and it is determined it was so finely constructed and keenly balanced that it could not have accidentally toppled from its mount. There is also some business with alibi checking with only Evelyn and Lionel seemingly out of the picture as they had retired to the parlor for piano playing and singing and were heard there fro the entire evening the night of the murder.

Miss Querdling's estate is bordered by a golf course and country club (see that excellent map endpapers below). Like many of Adams' books golf plays its part, but here it serves as more of a social background. A game of golf becomes the perfect excuse for several characters to have private conversations without the eavesdropping ears of other suspects or servants around.

Adams has all sorts of excellent touches in this book that may be overlooked by someone who approaches the book as a mere puzzle mystery. The victim abhors love and seems to shut out beauty, but lives in one of the most beautiful and romantic homes surrounded by artfully designed and lovingly cared for gardens. She is murdered with a statue of a mythological figure that symbolizes lust, a brilliant ironic touch. The site of her murder is one of the many picturesque, serene gardens that also happens to be a place where two characters have been having nighttime trysts.

Map of the gardens at Anabelle Querdling's estate
(click to enlarge)

The gardens themselves play an important role in the book not just serving as an unusual setting. I know this is going to sound pretentious but couldn't help but think of Shakepeare's plays and his forest and garden worlds where lovers are misunderstood or misaligned, where disguise and false identities impede and hinder the course of true love, but where in the end all is put right when foolishness is set aside, magic and illusion are dispelled, and common sense helps let true love prevail. All of this can be found in Adam's detective novel. While there's no fairy magic we can think of Haswell's deductions and brilliant insights as a sort of magic that allows the lovers to achieve their rightful union and deserved happiness.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

FIRST BOOKS: The Secret of Bogey House - Herbert Adams

Herbert Adams' first mystery novel is typical of the kind of crime fiction that was in ample supply in the early 1920s – a blend of the detective novel and the action thriller. This is the first appearance of Adam's lawyer detective Jimmie Haswell, but here he has a relatively minor role. Instead it is Tony Bridgman, a professional golfer and Haswell's buddy, who is our intrepid sleuthing hero. Interestingly enough The Secret of Bogey House (1924) begins with the search for a lost golf ball.

Golf will play a prominent role in Adam's later detective novels (sample these titles: The Body in the Bunker, The Golf House Mystery, Death off the Fairway, The Nineteenth Hole Mystery). It is usually the one thing that Adams is remembered for in his contributions to the genre. Both Jimmie Haswell and Adams' later detective Roger Bennion are both avid golfers. The game is almost always present in some way in the majority of his mystery novels and in some cases takes center stage. Here golf serves only as atmosphere in a tale of a murdered man found dead in a sportsman's private hotel.

While hunting for a treasured golf ball in the backyard of Mr. Teesdale Tony Bridgman is invited inside and quickly charms the old man and his young ward, Molly. Upon learning that Tony is the famous golfer Teesdale entrusts him with the task of discovering what happened to his nephew, David Gregson. The nephew recently asked for a loan of £2000 from his uncle but did not mention why he needed it so urgently. He then left with the money and has been not heard from since. Last word Teesdale had was that David had been staying at a private hotel for sportsmen run by James Mitchell. Entry to the hotel is by Mitchell's personal invitation and Teesdale hopes that Tony will be able to charm his way using his celebrity as a golfer as added incentive. Once inside he is sure Tony can learn what happened to David Gregson.

Tony finagles an invitation and sets up his investigation using Jimmie Haswell as an outside resource. Gregson does eventually return to the hotel but that very night is found stabbed (in the eye!) in a secluded area on the hotel grounds leading to a boathouse. No sign of a weapon but Tony is the only one at the scene of the crime making him suspect number one.

The story has some standard examination of physical evidence for a few chapters, but the mysterious activities of a Polish count, his reticent daughter who seems to be hiding a secret, and the sinister Mitchell overtake the story displacing any hopes for a legitimate novel of detection. Tony spends a lot of his time making midnight trips to the boathouse, eavesdropping behind curtains, risking his life swimming around the boathouse, and eventually finds a secret passageway (not so secret thanks to the first edition dust wrapper illustration) leading to an underground cave filled with smuggled antiques. A side trip to Belgium, a shifty antique dealer and his thuggish sons also feature in the fast paced story. All the while Tony is wooing Molly and trying his best to impress upon her that he is not just a dumb jock with a great tee shot.

For someone like me who usually dislikes the "starry-eyed-young-lovers-mixed-up-with-sinister-criminals" plot I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed this. Adams writes a ripping yarn and has a deft touch in creating a likeable hero and heroine, not the usual sappy love birds. His obvious romantic streak is prevalent in all his books. I think in addition to golf Adams is deserving of mention for being perhaps the preeminent detective novel writer who knew why and how to incorporate love and romance into a story about murder.

Making a nice segue into this plug:  Stay tuned for the "Neglected Detective" series, a soon-to-be regular feature on this blog that will discuss at length forgotten amateur sleuths from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.  First up:  Jimmie Haswell who when he takes the lead role will turn out to be quite a sharp-witted young man.