About the author: Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts. One of the founders of The Detection Club (from Goodreads)
- Cyril "Pinkie" Pinkerton, our narrator
- John Hillyard, the host - farmer and detective story author
- Ethyl Hillyard, his wife
- Elsa Verity - a "charming pretty little thing"
- Eric Scott-Davies, a cad - and the victim
- Armorel Scott-Davies, his cousin
- Sylvia de Ravel, wealthy society woman
- Paul de Ravel, her puppy-dog husband
- Roger Sheringham, a private investigator
Synopsis: This is a story-within-a-story, as narrator Cyril "Pinkie" Pinkerton is writing a novel describing how a murder mystery party goes wrong with one of the guests actually winding up murdered. His novel, which he calls the 'manuscript' comprises the text of this book, which he had buried in a box but the police recovered and are reading as we go along. This manuscript is bookended by a prologue and an epilogue, in which he describes to the reader the setup for his writing it; and delivers the denouement at the end. Once you get your head around this awkward concept, it progresses as follows.
John and Ethyl Hillyard operate Minton Deeps Farm - which, not being too profitable, is supplemented by John's writing of detective stories. At a gathering, it is suggested they put on a murder mystery evening for fun. Our narrator, Cyril 'Pinkie' Pinkerton, is one of the guests.
Eric Scott-Davies, a wealthy ne'er do well, being a thoroughly annoying bully and disliked by all, is cast as the victim. Just before the play acting begins, he announces his engagement to girl-next-door Elsa Verrity - stealing her away from Cyril. The play acting begins, and, surprise, after two gunshots are heard he is found dead. John Hillyard admits fired one innocent shot into the air as part of the theatrics, but who fired #2 which took out Scott-Davies?
It turns out that all the guests had motive to do away with him. Since the body was found by Cyril, and he has the strongest motive (the engagement to Elsa Verrity), suspicion points at him. He calls in old friend investigator Roger Sheringham to help clear him. His love interest gets complex as he now ignores Elsa and begins taking up with Armorel Scott-Davies, cousin to the deceased Eric.
As the investigation gets under way, we are treated to confessions from no less than four of the guests!
It takes a bit of concentration to follow which of the account is the play-acting script, and which is the actual murder; but once we get the concept the book moves right along. I call Roger Sheringham a private investigator, but it is never stated who he really is. Since he is a series character, perhaps this occurred in an earlier novel.
The narrowing down of suspects involves figuring who-where-when, and fortunately a sketch map is provided in my 1931 Crime Club edition.
The retrospective narration in the prologue/epilogue is a precursor to the same technique in a couple of favorite noir movies: Double Indemnity (1944) and Sunset Boulevard (1950). If you enjoy those films, you will love this book!
I am looking for more by this author - inexpensive paperback reprints are widely available but the original hardcovers are scarce.