Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Silk Stocking Murders by Anthony Berkeley (1928)

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)

Major characters:

  • Janet Manners a.k.a. Unity Ransome, chorus girl, victim #1
  • Moira Carruthers, Janet/Unity's roommate
  • Anne Manners, Janet/Unity's sister
  • Elsie Benham, prostitute, victim #2
  • Lady Ursula Graeme. victim #3
  • --- Playdell, Lady Ursula's fiancé
  • Dorothy Fielder, actress, victim #4
  • George Dunning, suspect #1
  • Hon. Arnold Beverley, suspect #2
  • Gerald Newsome, suspect #3
  • Roger Sheringham, novelist, newspaper contributor, amateur detective
  • Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard

Locale: London

Synopsis: Roger Sheringham, amateur detective/novelist/newspaper contributor, receives a letter from parson A. E. Manners, inquiring if he could look into the disappearance of his eldest daughter Janet Manners. Roger finds she had taken the name of Unity Ransome for a London theatre production, and was in the news for having committed suicide by hanging herself with one of her stockings.

Once Roger confirms that Unity is really Janet, he informs the parson; and strikes up a friendship with next-eldest daughter Anne Manners.

Two more identical deaths occur almost immediately: Prostitute Elsie Benham and socialite Lady Ursula Graeme. Both die in identical methods: hanging on a hook on a door, by one of their own stockings, just removed, leaving the mate in place.

Roger takes up a collaboration with Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard, on the theory a newspaper man is better at getting people to talk than a Scotland Yard man.

A similar case has been reported in Monte Carlo. By comparison of lists of male friends of the victims, three names are found in common (George Dunning, Arnold Beverley, Gerald Newsome), and become the prime suspects.

A fourth death occurs: Dorothy Fielder, actress.

Roger, convinced on Gerald Newsome's innocence, teams up with him and ends his collaboration with Scotland Yard. Roger gathers the suspects for a re-staging of the crime and denouément.


I was able to pick out the murderer from his introduction to the story, which generally eludes me. However, I couldn't see the motive - the motive I had in mind from the first did not pan out.

A unique twist occurs when Roger seemingly abandons his Scotland Yard alliance and teams up with one of the suspects.

The reconstruction of the crime / denouément staged by Roger is very Nero Wolfe .. specific placement of chairs and seating for the show, and the police conveniently standing near the murderer. The murderer is revealed by not reacting to a certain event, as he knew what was coming. (This immediately brought to mind the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, in which one vital lead to the perpetrators was a security camera image of the crowd, all heads turned towards the sound of the explosion, except for two - the bombers - who did not react.)

Note: stereotypes of Jewish persons abound.

See also this review by Bev Hankins on My Reader's Block.

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