Recently I picked up a gruesome looking paperback in a used bookstore. Sporting yellowed pages, a splitting spine and the most nausea inducting color palette, it’s surprising that I picked it up at all. But after checking the copyright date, 1930, and reading the short synopsis on the back, I decided to dig deep and pay the twenty – five cents anyway.
I love a good mystery and this one seemed to have a lot of those old-fashioned elements such as an isolated location, a clueless crime and an amateur, gentleman sleuth. Perfect, I thought, for a quick read on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
My dismissal of the book, The Mystery at Huntings End, as Christie-Wanna-Be- Sunday-Afternoon- Fluff-Stuff, was short-lived.
Now let me tell you why……
**NOTE**- I have not finished this book, so my good opinion could change. If that is the case I will let you know. If you have read this book—DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME ANYTHING!!! DON’T YOU DARE!
The plot is brilliant! So stunningly simple and complex at the same time I had to stop reading and make my husband stop his reading, so I could tell him about it. Let me know if you agree…
Five years prior to the opening of the story, a group of wealthy hunters(both men and women) stayed overnight in an isolated hunting lodge. In the dead of night a man was shot once through the heart. Bang! No murder weapon or murderer is every found.
Now the daughter of the victim has reassembled the group in the same lodge, exactly five years to the day. A blizzard conveniently arrives to prevent them from leaving, of course!( I love it when the weather just happens to cooperate!) But the daughter has invited two others, two strangers, to the group. One of them is our gentleman detective, Mr. O’Leary, and the guest/suspects have no idea he is a detective, and the other guest is our narrator, nurse Sarah Keate, who was actually hired to take care of the mean old Aunt Lucy, a wheelchair bound wacko who loves to shriek out little bits of wisdom like, “There is evil here!!! E-V-I-L!” ,before she binge eats in her room. Love Aunt Lucy!
But wait, there’s more!!!!
Mr. O’Leary wants to know why the daughter even cares at this point to find out who committed the crime. It was five years ago and many crimes go unsolved and Matil(the daughter) is super rich, so it seems like she could at least go shopping in Paris to ease her mind. Then Matil reveals this….she is in love with someone who was in the original group and the other person doesn’t know AND she is not going to tell Mr. O’Leary who it is, just in case the person turns out to be the one who killed Daddy. (I’m going to guess it’s a man. We haven’t been told yet, but I’d been surprised if in 1930 the author was that progressive.)
I love this plot! It’s just so….so….clean! So perfectly simple and complex! It’s like a beautiful piece of architecture of which each piece supports the whole in an elegant way.
And yet it gets even better….
The author, Mignon G. Eberhart, has chosen to tell her story through the eyes of the one true bystander, Nurse Sarah Keate, the only member of the group who has no stake in the game at all. She doesn’t know these people, she doesn’t care about these people and that is also brilliant! Sarah is an observer, nothing more and nothing less.
Last night we had our second murder. It was the same as the first, one shot through the heart in the middle of the night, in the same room where the first murder took place….
I’ll keep you updated…..