The ghastly priest doth reign
The Case with Nine Solutions. And I am delighted that Connington is back in print! This is due to the folks at Coachwhip Publications, a print-on-demand publishing house that has recently reprinted Murder in the Maze, The Tau Cross Mystery, and The Castleford Conundrum. I’m very grateful to Chad Arment for sending me review copies of the last two books—and I decided to start with The Tau Cross Mystery, which coincidentally fits in with one of my themes for the 2012 Vintage Mystery Challenge!
The Tau Cross Mystery is the tenth novel featuring Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable. And this book takes place not in the country house, but in modern-day suburbia, a setting that is quite effectively portrayed. There’s been a murder: an unknown man has been shot in a supposedly-empty flat. Sir Clinton is given too much evidence, and yet none of it seems to lead anywhere: there’s an overturned paint pot, a bloody handkerchief, an altogether mysterious business involving an unnecessary pair of shoes… and the titular “tau cross”, a gold ornament shaped like a cross modelled on the Greek letter Tau.
I admit that the identity of the murderer is fairly easy to spot for the seasoned professional of detective stories, but this isn’t a real problem. Sir Clinton figures out whodunit fairly quickly, but he is delayed because he has to consider that his evidence must convince a jury to convict the criminal. And it’s all worth it in the end, when Sir Clinton corners his quarry and in a masterful final paragraph, his mordant sense of humour sets to work when he informs the murderer of his arrest. (Naturally, keep in mind that I use “he” to refer to the murderer only due to convenience. The killer could be male or female, but as an outside bet, I advise you to keep a close eye on the canary!)
One of the things that makes the somewhat easier-to-solve puzzle so forgivable is the high quality of the storytelling. These characters feel so real. There’s a young constable who takes advantage of the murder case to show his superiors that he has those “special qualifications” needed for promotion. Fairly late in the book, we’re given another detailed portrait of an aging clerk, Mr. Mitford, who has fallen in love with the Japan of fairy tales and story books, and wants to visit the place before it is driven extinct by modernisation. Unfortunately, it seems impossible for him to ever achieve this dream. And then there’s a Christian “reverend” (but not strictly speaking a reverend at all) who is remarkably self-centered and manipulative, not to mention a streak of hypocrisy running through his character. I could run through the whole character list, but then I’d give away half of the plot in the meantime.
Overall, I enjoyed The Tau Cross Mystery, which prior to this reprint was hard to find— the lowest price I can find (under the title The Tau Cross Mystery-- there are some cheaper editions of the alternate title, In Whose Dim Shadow) was over $500! Is it worth the while? I think so. Although the murderer is fairly easy to spot, there is so much else of interest in this book. The characters are great, the suburban setting is wonderful, and it’s a pleasure to watch a master detective of Sir Clinton’s calibre at work. In other words, it’s a pure delight, and I look forward to reading The Castleford Conundrum!