Recent Events

Friday 27 August 2021

‘Murder Underground’ by Mavis Doriel Hay.

Originally Published 1934.
Published by British Library Crime Classics,
31st March 2014 (PB)

The story opens with the inhabitants of the Frampton Private Hotel, (which is in reality a very ordinary boarding house) departing about their daily business. Amongst them is Miss Euphemia Pongleton, who 'pottered fussily out, hugging an enormous handbag and looking perhaps rather shabbier and more-out-of-date than usual.' When Betty Watson, another resident at the hotel informs her that it was a 'nice morning' Miss Pongleton 'wrinkled her nose as if she didn't like the smell of it.' This beautiful piece of characterisation tells us a great deal about Miss Pongleton. Despite her shabby appearance and parsimonious ways, Miss Pongleton is an affluent woman; she is also a very unpleasant, interfering person, who is fond of exerting power over other people. When she is discovered on the stairs of Belsize Park Station strangled by the lead belonging to her dog, Tuppy, her fellow residents are shocked but not distressed. Indeed, even Tuppy seems indifferent to his mistress's death. Most of the residents enjoy speculating about the crime, especially Mrs Daymer the novelist, but Betty Watson has more reason to care than most, as she is in love with Miss Pongleton's nephew, and probable heir, Basil Pongleton.

The police have several suspects. Chief amongst them is a young railway worker whose girlfriend works at the Frampton Hotel. Miss Pongleton had found out about a foolish, illegal act this young man had committed, and it is not clear whether she intended to report him to the police. However, the police also have good reason to suspect those who might benefit financially from Miss Pongleton's death: her nephew Basil and his cousin, Beryl. Although Beryl was not in the vicinity when Miss Pongleton died, her fiancé, Gerry, admits to passing the old lady on the stairs, presumably minutes before her murder. Miss Pongleton was in the habit of altering her will whenever Basil annoyed her. As Basil is the 'feckless, exasperating' literary man referred to in Sayers's review,  this occurs with unfortunate regularity and leads to a confusing abundance of contradictory wills. Basil's foolish and inconsistent lies mean that he is soon suspected of his aunt's murder. His behaviour is very self-incriminating, especially when he convinces his cousin, Beryl, and his girlfriend, Betty, to cover for his indiscretions. This leads the unfortunate Inspector Caird to speculate that Miss Pongleton's murder was committed by a 'gang' of her relations and fellow residents.

For much of the book Inspector Caird has very little time on-stage. While he is conducting interviews in one room of the hotel, the reader is hearing about it second-hand, through the discussion and speculation of the other residents. Near the end of the book he emerges as a sensible, conscientious officer, who feels angry that the idiotic and selfish antics of Basil Pongleton have led a nice girl like Betty into trouble. However this is a book of amateur detectives and it is they who solve the crime.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Mavis Doriel Hay (1894-1979) was a novelist of the golden age of British crime fiction. Her three detective novels were published in the 1930s and are now rare and highly collectable books. She was an expert on rural handicraft and wrote several books on the subject.

Carol Westron is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

No comments:

Post a Comment