Sunday, December 20, 2015

Review: Christopher Quarles: College Professor and Master Detective by Percy James Brebner

by Mary

Detective Murray Wigan narrates various cases he solved with the assistance of philosophy professor Christopher Quarles.

If a case interests Quarles he tries to solve it for his own satisfaction but never gives his opinion unless asked, nor does he interfere except to prevent a miscarriage of justice. As he explains to Wigan, his method is the reverse of that used by detectives, for they "...argue from facts; I am more inclined to form a theory, and then look for facts to fit..." A rather dangerous way to solve a crime in my opinion, but Quarles is a keen observer of small details and knows his psychology, pointing to the right person every time.

In the opening story of this 1914 collection, Wigan meets Quarles for the first time when the owner of 12 Blenheim Square is found dead. There are no marks of violence on the deceased and a large blue stone and the components of a set of Chinese nesting boxes are arranged in a semicircle on a blotting-pad in front of him. Thus begins The Affair of the Ivory Boxes.

Quarles' theory relating to a particularly gruesome crime is supported by an architectural clue, but why would The Identity of the Final Victim never be known, given Wigan believes it is possible to discover it?

A string of medical men are burgled but in each case nothing is stolen by the burglar. Once The Riddle of the Circular Counters is solved the crime spree makes a certain amount of sense.

A touch of woo-woo and psychological reasoning help Wigan and Quarles solve a bibliophile's murder in The Strange Case of Michael Hall, the latter being not the victim but the man sentenced to death for the crime.

The next case begins with a woman's telephone call for help, cut off in mid sentence. When the authorities arrive at her home, she has disappeared. The Evidence of the Cigarette-end points towards the solution.

The companion of the murdered titular character in The Mystery of Old Mrs. Jardine has disappeared, making her the prime suspect. But there are indications Mrs J's nephew might be the culprit...

The murder method is explained by The Death-trap in the Tudor Room, but what could be the motive? Perhaps the least rewarding of the stories in this collection, not least because the title is my favourite.

It takes five years but justice is served in an unexpected way on the perpetrator of a murder, finally clearing up The Mystery of Cross Roads Farm.

There's more than just a game of golf being played at an east coast resort. A bit of burglary and inspired code-breaking solves The Conundrum of the Golf Links.

The Diamond Necklace Scandal breaks out when a valuable piece of jewelry is stolen and then returned -- or rather a paste imitation is sent back. Who has the real necklace and how did they steal it from the neck of the wearer without her realising it was gone?

After The Disappearance of Dr Smith the wreckage of his boat is cast ashore, followed two days later by his body. Dr Smith was insured for a large sum so the question to be solved is was his death an accident, suicide, or worse?

Following a series of safe robberies in London, Quarles and Wigan investigate The Affair of the Stolen Gold. Was the same gang responsible for the theft or was it carried out by a recently dismissed employee, now gone missing -- and if it was, how did he manage to transfer all that weighty gold out overnight?

The Will of the Eccentric Mr. Frisby is that of a man who made a fortune in Australia and then came home to Boston, Lincolnshire. He dies leaving an adopted son and a nephew he has given ten thousand pounds and informed he should have no expectations. But no will can be found...

Some nice misdirection obfuscates investigation of The Case of the Murdered Financier. A veiled woman is known to have visited him on the night of his death. Who was she and why was she there?

A moneylender goes out the day he expects a dinner guest of some importance. The host does not return and the guest does not turn up, leading to an investigation of The Strange Affair of the Florentine Chest.

An old man leaves puzzling statements in his will as clues to aid his disliked heirs find their inheritance. As the result of a faithful servant being accused of theft, Quarles and Wigan become involved in The Search for the Missing Fortune.

My verdict: I'd mark this collection with an A. Each story closes with an explanation of how Quarles deduced information instrumental in solving the case and some clues in these narratives are so subtle readers will kick themselves for missing them as I did. There is one entry where a significant matter connecting to a later clue is not mentioned before the explanation, perhaps an oversight on the part of the author. In any event, I enjoyed this collection so much I now intend to read The Master Detective: Being Some Further Investigations of Christopher Quarles. Stay tuned!

Etext: Christopher Quarles: College Professor and Master Detective by Percy James Brebner

No comments:

Post a Comment