Sunday, November 15, 2015

Review: The Sleuth of St. James's Square by Melville Davisson Post

by Mary

Sir Henry Marquis is Chief of the C.I.D. at Scotland Yard. This collection relates some of the cases in which he played a part, although in a few entries he takes a more peripheral role.

The Thing On The Hearth is blamed for the death of Mr Rodman, a scientist who invented a process to make precious gems. He is found dead in a locked room guarded by an Oriental servant and his death involves what appears to be a visitor from...somewhere else. Sir Henry visits Rodman's New England mansion to investigate the matter.

Sir Henry has been looking over the memoirs of Captain Walker, head of the US Secret Service. In their ensuing discussion Walker tells him the tale of an inebriate hobo, who, when everyone else had failed, was instrumental in locating a number of stolen plates for war bonds, thus earning The Reward.

The next story involves a large sum of money Madame Barras is foolishly carrying on an unaccompanied two mile journey through the forest lying between the home of an old school friend and the village hotel in which madame is staying. Sir Henry is also a hotel guest and helps search for The Lost Lady.

The titled parents of a young man fighting at the front in France are extremely distressed. His fiancee has been staying out half the night motoring all over the landscape with Mr Meadows, and even admits to having deliberately picked him up! But when Mr Meadows obligingly gives a lift to Sir Henry, who is on his way to investigate a murder, footprints from The Cambered Foot, not to mention other clews, turn out to be not at all what they seem.

In the next story, an Englishman, an American, and an Italian are *not* sitting in a bar but rather are chatting about the justice systems of their respective countries at Sir Henry's villa. The Italian count relates how it was legally possible for The Man In The Green Hat, proved without a shadow of doubt to be guilty of premeditated murder, to escape the death penalty.

Sir Henry owns a diary kept by the daughter of his ancestor Mr Pendleton, a justice of the peace in colonial Virginia. The diary describes cases in which Pendleon was involved and this one concerns dissolute Lucian Morrow's wish to buy a beautiful Hispanic girl from Mr Zindorf, whose ownership of her is dubious to say the least. However The Wrong Sign turns out to be right for saving the innocent.

Another Pendleton story follows. Peyton Marshall's will favouring Englishman Anthony Gosford has gone missing and it transpires Marshall's son has hidden it for what appears to be good reason. But can the lad's unsupported claims be proved, allowing him to inherit what his father promised him? The Fortune Teller will reveal the answer.

The next tale relates a third case involving Sir Henry's ancestor. Pendleton meets a girl wandering about in despair. This is not surprising given her uncle, with whom she had been living, has just kicked her out of his house after informing her that her father was a rogue who robbed him and absconded. The Hole In The Mahogany Panel bears mute witness to the truth.

The war is over and the traitoress Lady Muriel is in desperate financial straits as she can no longer sells British secrets. She overhears a conversation that ultimately leads to her to kill a man when discovered in the act of stealing an explorer's watercolour of, and map showing the route to, an African lake where treasure lies at The End Of The Road.

In The Last Adventure explorer Charlie Tavor tried to find the ancient route of gold-bearing caravans crossing Mongolia in order to salvage the precious metal from those that foundered. He returns to America with only a few months to live and his friend Barclay undertakes to sell Tavor's map to the location to a man who had previously swindled Tavor...

Jewel dealer Douglas Hargrave meets Sir Henry at their London club. Sir Henry is puzzling over an advertisement run in papers in three European capitals, trying to deduce what The American Horses represent in an obviously coded message. Then Hargrave meets a lady who wants to buy a large lot of valuable gems from a Rumanian who demands payment in cash....

Lisa Lewis, American Ambassadoress, relates a curious tale at a dinner party at Sir Henry's house. The Dominion Railroad Company has experienced a number of terrible accidents and fears numerous reports alleging negligence will lead to its bankruptcy. Yet despite all possible precautions the Montreal Express derails because of The Spread Rails. Lisa's friend Marion Warfield, who revised a textbook on circumstantial evidence, solves the mystery.

At the same dinner party Sir Henry describes the case of the hardhearted lawyer who demands more money to represent a butler on trial for murdering and robbing his employer. The money cannot be found and the accused's wife wanders the streets in despair. A wealthy opera singer takes pity on her, treats her to a meal, and listens to her story. Is she a fairy godmother in the modern equivalent of The Pumpkin Coach and can she help the man on trial?

Miss Carstair is having doubts about her marriage to diplomat Lord Eckhart despite her fiance's gift of a stunning ruby necklace, for she is extremely troubled by gossip he is the worst ne'er do well in London. While she is pondering the matter Dr Tsan-Sgam, who has been dining with Sir Henry, arrives with news of the death of her father in the Gobi Desert, ultimately learning of its connection to The Yellow Flower.

Next, a post-war story narrated by a weekend guest at Sir Henry's country house. Sir Henry reveals the true story of an incident on a hospital ship boarded by Prussian submarine commander Plutonburg. Wounded St Alban defies him with the fighting words "Don't threaten, fire if you like!", becoming an instant hero to the British. But there's a lot more to it than that, and a situation as bitter as the rolling waves is revealed in A Satire of the Sea.

In the final yarn, the uncle of narrator Robin tries to put him off visiting him, but the envelope in which the letter arrives has a hastily scrawled appeal to ignore the contents and come to The House By The Loch. Will his uncle's labours to cast a perfect Buddha ever be successful? Who is the highlander sitting knitting while talking about the Ten Commandments and taking a great deal of interest in the movements of Robin's uncle?

My verdict: A first rate collection with several stories having a O. Henryesque twist or two catching the reader by surprise. My favourites were The Last Adventure, a wonderful biter-bit yarn, and A Satire of the Sea, with its psychological underpinnings. An author's note for The Man In The Green Hat cites a specific American legal case and readers may like to know it was heard in 1913.

Etext: The Sleuth of St. James's Square by Melville Davisson Post

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