One of J.J. Connington’s most popular novels, which became a green Penguin edition after his death, is my Forgotten Book for today, The Case with Nine Solutions. It was first published in 1928 (not 1926, as my Penguin edition states) and featured Sir Clinton Driffield, as well as four murders.
Connington, whose real name was A.W. Stewart, was a professor of chemistry, and this is a book which draws heavily on his scientific expertise. When I first read it, more than twenty years ago, I found it slightly disappointing, but on a re-reading I understood more clearly what Connington was trying to do. Despite the title, he was not offering a story with a raft of alternative solutions, in the way Anthony Berkeley did. Rather, he was offering a complicated and fairly clued puzzle that focused on the means of committing murder more than on human motivation.
The story begins pretty well, as a locum doctor who is called out to a case of scarlet fever one foggy night turns up at the wrong house and discovers a young man in his death throes. There is a dying message, the first of a long line of clues, including coded messages and various bits of scientific information – Driffield even lectures a colleague on the meaning of “mixed melting-points”, in the finest tradition of the know-all sleuth.
The catalyst for the crimes is a dark and sexually motivated scheme which, in keeping with the time of publication, is not described explicitly. There are also echoes of the Crippen case and, obliquely, Connington suggests the nature of a mistake that Crippen may well have made. The finale is literally explosive. All in all, an interesting book, well worth looking out.