Thursday, 2 December 2010

Forgotten Book - The Boat-House Riddle


The very title of The Boat-House Riddle by J.J. Connington gives away the fact that it is not a modern book. You’d never use such a title nowadays. And I think it’s a worthy entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books, because I’d like to bet that very few even of the knowledgeable readers of this blog have ever come across this particular novel. It was published in 1931, and my copy is a 1969 reprint, published by Lythway, who produced a lot of books for libraries in those days, some of which I read in my teens.

The boat-house in question belongs to Wendover, pal of Connington’s usual detective, Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield. Driffield comes to stay with Wendover, and soon the body of a gamekeeper is discovered near the boat-house. We are provided with a plan of the scene. And eventually a second body is dredged up from a lake.

This is a soundly constructed story, although the circle of suspects is small and there isn’t a great deal of tension or dramatic action. Much of the story is devoted to working out the sequence of events on one particular evening. But I found the book a quick and agreeable read.

An interesting feature of the novel is the observations about social class, which probably tell you a lot about England in 1931 (though I should add that Connington was a Scot who lived in Belfast.) For instance: ‘If Ferrers had been one of those foreigners who can be strung up to any pitch by jealousy, there might be something in it. But an Englishman of that class would never turn a casual flirtation into a murder drama.’ But my favourite line is: ‘In science, an international reputation implies merely that an author’s papers are read by a handful of specialists, half of whom probably disagree with the conclusion’. Connington was a scientist, and I suspect he enjoyed writing that line.

10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Right you are! I wasn't familiar with this one. Thanks, as always, for sharing a book I might not otherwise have heard of.

Minnie said...

Didn't Kingsley Amis write a Golden Age pastiche on similar lines only with a young boy as central character(YOU'll be bound to know, Martin!)? If that's correct, I wonder if he knew/knew of Connington's novel.
Love the final quote - conveys pithily just the combination of amusement & frustration one might expect from such a person!

aguja said...

Just loved your quotes - in particular the second, which gave me much pleasure and amusement. Most astute!

vegetableduck said...

In my view this is not his best book, but it's in the top third (or close to it). Connington is very conservative, but also often quite acerbic, giving his books a distinct tone. One of my complaints about the application of the "Humdrum" label (and Connington often gets lumped in here as well) is that all these writers are treated as identical, when in fact their writing is distinct (you can tell whether you are reading a Crofts or a Connington).

Evan Lewis said...

It's true, boat-houses and riddles don't grab mystery readers like they used to.

vegetableduck said...

I don't know, I think boat-houses are as good a location for murders as, say, ice-houses (see Minette Walters). Let's see, H.C. Bailey had a murder in a boat-house and John Rhode one in a lake house. Wasn't there a boat-house murder in Agatha Christie's Dead Man's Folly?

Rachel Cotterill said...

I like reading old books that give a picture of how things were in a particular time and place - this sounds like a good example of that :)

Martin Edwards said...

Minnie, yes, it's The Riverside Villas Mystery which I read many years ago. Not bad, but not very mysterious, as I recall.

Martin Edwards said...

Rachel, good to hear from you.

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, as ever, your knowledge of the GAD books is deeply impressive! I agree about the difference between Crofts and Connington.