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.