One of the reading challenges I’m doing this year is #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge hosted by Rekha at the Book Decoder (here) where one reads crime,mystery, or thriller books (British of course) published before 1965. Detection Unlimited (1953) is the third book I’m reading this year that falls in this category.
This is the third of the series featuring Chief Inspector Hemingway that I’ve read, though it is the fourth in the series/subseries. Once again in a classic setting—a small English village—this one opens one summer evening as many of the residents are heading to a tennis party thrown by Mrs Haswell. On the way to and at the party we learn of a solicitor Mr Sampson Warrenby, who has recently moved to the village, and is not well liked, in fact disliked by pretty much all the residents. The party guests are rather pleased that Warrenby chose not to attend, though his niece, Mavis, who is keeping house for him is there. Of course, by the time the games come to an end and the guests return, Mavis comes home to find her uncle shot dead in the garden of his home, Fox House. The local Detective-Inspector Thropton is away sick (similar to the case in Envious Casca), and so the Chief Constable decides to call in Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Hemingway is sent down, accompanied by Inspector Horace Harbottle.
While in some ways, the case before Hemingway is a simple one, a man shot dead in his garden, it turns out to be quite difficult to figure out as for one, there are so many suspects, all with different reasons to dislike Warrenby—from Mr Drybeck the solicitor whose practice and seats on various boards and committees have been taken away by Warrenby, to his niece, the saintly Mavis who seems to have fallen in love with a young Polish man, Ladislas Zamagorisky, who her uncle most certainly does not approve of, to Mrs Midgeholme, breeder of Pekes whose dog was kicked by Warrenby; many have reasons to dislike him, even kill him. In fact, Hemingway says at one point, ‘I don’t know when I’ve had so many possibles to choose from’ , identifying at least nine. To add to it, there are 37 rifles of the kind used in the murder in the vicinity. And if these alone weren’t enough, nearly everyone in the village from the said Mr Drybeck and Mrs Midgeholme, to youngsters Charles Haswell and Abigail Patterson, to a ninety-year-old former poacher Mr Biggleswade, has turned into an amateur detective approaching Hemingway with their theories and information they consider of the utmost importance, some to throw suspicion off themselves, but others genuinely ‘trying to help’.
I enjoyed this one, especially since like Hemingway, I certainly didn’t figure out whodunit until he did himself (in the previous Hemingway book I read, Envious Casca I did figure the ‘who’ out); so the book kept me reading till the end. The abundance of suspects and amateur detectives kept me guessing as well. Like the other two Hemingway books that I’ve read, this one too is humorous, in Hemingway’s tone and his exchanges with Inspector Harbottle for instance, as well as in some of the characters such as Mrs Midgeholme and her line of prize-winning Pekes Ultima, all named with the letter ‘U’ (Ulysees, Umberto, and Ursula, but also Uppish, Unruly, and Umbrella) and even the old poacher, for that matter. Hemingway’s observations in an instance or two do seem a touch insensitive or un-PC but overall he’s good fun. The rest of the characters too are pretty well drawn out, each standing out individually, and of course, more than one with their own secrets. I liked how Hemingway finally worked the thing out, picking up on various things that he’d missed when first told them—the explanation of who, how, and why runs into several pages where the Inspector is more or less putting together various pieces as he works it out. I find I’m really liking Heyer’s mysteries, ones more serious in tone like Penhallow as well as these lighter-hearted Hemingway ones a lot, and look forward to reading more soon.
Have you read this one or any of Heyer’s other mysteries? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Image source: Cover image from goodreads as always.