Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

by Mary

Readers must have been surprised to learn Philo Vance bred Scottish terriers, but it was as well for the forces of law and order he did, for it was this interest, coupled with his vast knowledge of Chinese ceramics, that ultimately provided the solution to the Kennel Murder Case.

The novel begins with one of my favourite fictional crime scenes: a suicide in a room locked on the inside. This is merely window dressing, for it is in fact murder. And murder most peculiar, for collector Archer Coe had been shot after his death. In addition, his coat and waistcoat have been removed and his dressing gown substituted but his street shoes have been left on -- not to mention he has been struck on the head and a rib broken. Then there is the question of the badly injured Scottie found downstairs, an unknown dog in a household that does not care for them.

Leaving aside intruders, there aren't many suspects. There's Archer's brother Brisbane and niece and ward Hilda Lake. Milanese museum official Eduardo Grassi, is a house guest, Raymond Wrede, a friend of the family, visits often, and the Coe's Chinese cook Liang Tsung Wei is naturally viewed as suspicious. Financial motives of various sorts provide most of them with an interest in the affair, although Mr Wei is an unknown quantity and seems too cultured for a mere servant. There is talk of revenge for shady deals and tomb robbing and further mayhem ensues but of course Vance ultimately solves the case.

My verdict: The Kennel Murder Case rattles along faster than other entries in the series and there is less eyeball glazing vapouring on esoteric topics than usual. This is intriguing, given the solution hinges on knowledge of canine matters and porcelain, but the leaner prose is the better for it. The reader is cleverly misled through their own expectations although part of the solution begins to manifest to the really attentive towards the end of the book. As for the kennel, we don't see too much of it so the title is somewhat misleading but the little Scottie goes to live with Vance, so it ends happily for her, if not for certain others. In a discussion of methods used to lock rooms from the outside to give the impression of having been bolted by someone inside the room Van Dine naughtily reveals examples from two named novels, so beware of spoilers.

Etext: The Kennel Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

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