Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: The Bittermeads Mystery by E. R. Punshon

by Mary

The Bittermeads Mystery gets off to a lively start with protagonist Robert Dunn eluding pursuit after a donnybrook (or should I say a Dunnybrook?) with a man he was following through a wood.

Dunn continues his nocturnal activities by sloping along to Bittermeads, the titular house, where he finds a burglary in progress. Seizing the day, or rather night, Dunn knocks the burglar out and after exchanging clothing with the unconscious man (subsequently concealed on the village common opposite the house) he enters the dwelling hoping to be discovered. An unusual ambition, you may say, but since a burglar is a shady sort he hopes to be invited to join the murky band associated with Bittermeads. His reasoning is he will not be turned him over to the police as the residents don't want attention drawn to the house. In this way he hopes to find out what has happened to his old chum Charley Wright, who was romantically involved with Ella Cayley, the daughter of the house, but has disappeared. He has another reason for his interest in joining the enemy camp, but it is not revealed until some way into the narrative.

The only people at home are Ella and her ailing mother and after tying Ella up and promising not to disturb her mother, Dunn explores the house -- only to find the murdered Charley in a packing case in an attic.

Ella's stepfather, Deede Dawson, returns home and nabs Dunn but decides to employ him as chauffeur and gardener -- not an action one would expect of an honest man. Dunn's first task is to finish nailing down the lid of the packing case without revealing he knows what is in it. But then Ella takes the packing case away in a car, thus removing the only evidence he can produce to launch a police investigation.

Then there is another murder as the plot thickens up in satisfactory fashion.

My verdict: The two matters Dunn is investigating have no immediate apparent link but ultimately are shown to be intertwined. Although the close reader may well deduce a certain hidden identity and the name of the person masterminding the mayhem, it will likely not be until fairly late in the book. The action gallops along and we have an unusual look at the romantic agony of a male protagonist as well as his internal musings as the plot develops. Although it is a fast, light read there are noir underpinnings and the whole is resolved with a satisfactory comeuppance for the egregious villain of the piece.

Etext: The Bittermeads Mystery

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