Sunday, March 13, 2016

Review: Was It Murder? by James Hilton

by Mary

It is ten years after the Great War and Oxford graduate Colin Revell lives in London near the Caledonian Cattle Market. A somewhat irritating young man, he is engaged in writing "literary articles for a high-brow weekly" while composing a satirical epic. Fortunately he has private means.

Revell attended Oakington, a minor public school. One day he receives a letter from its current headmaster, Dr Robert Roseveare, inviting him to visit Oakington to solve a mystery. The two men do not know each other, but Dr Roseveare had heard from a mutual acquaintance at Oxford that Revell had recovered a manuscript stolen from his college library, and so hopes he can shed light on a tragedy that has taken place at the school.

Revell accepts Dr Roseveare's invitation and so learns the history of the Marshall brothers. The oldest died during the war, leaving Wilbraham, currently head prefect of Oakington, and their youngest brother, Robert. The latter was killed by a falling gas fitting in a freak accident in the dormitory of his school house.

Dr Roseveare reveals he had sent for Revell because Robert had written a just-discovered will, leaving all his possessions to his remaining brother -- apart from his three-speed bike, which was to go to a particular school chum. And the will was written the evening before Robert was killed. Dr Roseveare feels the situation is...suggestive....and wishes Revell to secretly look into the matter in the guise of a Old Boy back for a visit.

Revell goes about the school grounds talking to various masters and staff. He makes no progress, ultimately finding there does not seem to be anything suspicious to learn. Dr Roseveare admits to an attack of nerves about the matter and apologises for the wild good chase, so Revell returns to London.

But then there is another death at Oakington and Revell takes up his investigation again.

My verdict: Misdirection and red herrings abound as Revell invents well-reasoned theories fitting the available information and suspects, but is then forced to discard them as the novel progresses. I am a reader who likes to follow clues and solve the mystery before the author reveals whodunnit, but I could not guess the culprit, who turned out to be the third person I suspected, and a twist or two at the end also caught me by surprise.

Note: Originally published as Murder at School under the pseudonym James Trevor, this was James Hilton's only mystery novel.

Etext: Was It Murder? by James Hilton

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