christie's book reviews

Golden Age Gals: Mavis Doriel Hay

Murder Underground Review:

This book is an interesting one. The book begins with a very staccato sort of pace - with a good deal of confusion as each member of the story learns of the death of Miss Pongleton on the steps of the tube station. I became annoyed as I read because after their initial congregation to discuss the ghastly demise of a universally disliked old spinster, each member of the Frampton boarding house (where the old lady lived and each sleuth has some connection to) blundered about on their own parallel - yet not intersecting investigations.

There was no one person in the story who knew the whole, no singular sleuth with whom the information flowed the in order to facilitate the solving of the crime. Each member of the Frampton had their own thread to pull on to try and untangle the whole mess and didn’t really discuss their knot with another. The only investigators you don’t read about at any length is the police. So I continued to slog my way thru the book, which while I found annoying, the mystery did have me interested, until it dawned on me.

(near the scene of the crime) (source of the image here)

The person with whom all the information flowed thru was the reader! Me! This book is the ultimate in fair play. You are the sleuth (though the fourth wall in the book isn’t broken - that would have been really weird, but anyways) sifting through statements, evidence and alibis to figure out who did it. Nothing is hidden from the reader until the last chapter, which I suspect the author did in order to give her characters their big reveal in front of the fire with everyone gathered together again in the sitting room.

I don’t think I have ever read anything written quite like this and by the end I was really invested in discovering who did it! My early annoyance evaporated completely. Which is why I am giving you a heads up about Hay’s style here - to perhaps mitigate any frustration you might feel when reading this mystery. Plus if you are a fan of golden age mysteries Murder Underground incorporates a number of staples of the style - set in England, with a universally disliked victim, off stage violence, a smallish closed cast of characters/suspects and a traditional sitting room which bookended the mystery.

Plus the people which populated the narrative make this book worth checking out. In fact it has one of my new favorite characters in it - Mr. Blend who like a nice “tidy” murder…But you have to read the book to fully appreciate him - but it is more than worth it.

Overall I think this book is worth the time it takes to read it. Just keep in mind that you are the detective and you’ll be fine!

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