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Death at Swaythling Court

Page history last edited by J F Norris 11 years, 7 months ago

Connington, JJ - Death at Swaythling Court (1926)

 

B

 

Considering this is Connington’s first novel, it’s quite an achievement.  The murder of the blackmailing butterfly-collector Hubbard is the centre of a well constructed, elaborately clued mystery with an ingenious plot.  There’s little successful detection—Colonel Sanderstead (a pukka sahib chap like Wendover) is, as he admits, more successful as a ‘collector of facts’ than as a ‘theorist or detective’, and the criminals confess to him in private at the end.  I worked out most of the plot, suspecting one culprit because of his rôle in the story, and another because of some rather obvious clues (the “Invisible Man” is rather clumsily handled).

In some ways, this anticipates Carr: a very good investigation of the murder scene which turns up lots of clues; and a detective novelist who halfway through provides an ingenious but wrong theory based on circumstantial evidence (c.f. To Wake the Dead).

 

Connington’s prose throughout is brisk, cheerful and to the point.  Connington never wrote too much, enough for a long running series (one book a year) but never enough to run out of ideas or sacrifice character and readability to formula.  In short, Connington’s books are individual.

 

·        Is Hubbard a Jew—lith-ping out-thider?

·        Investigation of bike and car trails, typewriters—physical clues of the sort found in later books.

·        Rival detectives Colonel and nephew—c.f. Driffield and Wendover.

·        Murderers get away with it: Nemesis at Raynham Parva.

 

Nick Fuller.

 


Bordering on a parody this is an early Connington novel with an unusual light-hearted tone not found in his later books with Sir Clinton Driffield.  The characters are here are stock, speak in phonetic dialects, and behave a little less than real.  Story involves the invention of a lethal ray and the attempts of Jimmy Leigh, the inventor, to acquire financing to start a manufacturing business.  His mistake is that he chooses as his primary backer William Hubbard, a wealthy, lisping, butterfly collector who also happens to be a despicable blackmailer.  As is the case with most blackmailers in crime fiction he meets a violent end.  He is discovered apparently stabbed by a paper knife in his suffocatingly hot study.  At the inquest expert testimony reveals that the knife wound was done post mortem and that he died from cyanide poisoning.  But why stab him as well?  Inspection of the crime scene reveals a broken display case with a stolen butterfly, some papers and documents burned in the fireplace, and a .022 caliber pistol lying on the carpet.  While looking over the scene Hubbard's pet parrot, disturbed by some earlier altercation that took place in the room, suddenly erupts in a stream of foul language much to the amazement of the three men who discover the body.  Other oddities in the story include: three characters who own motorcycles (one of them being a butler!); a village idiot obsessed with finding and keeping beautiful things; a mystery writer who attends the inquest for ideas for a new book (the character of the writer we are told is the author of The Ravenhall Mystery foreshadowing Connington's own novel Tragedy at Ravensthorpe written one year later). There is a bit thrown in about a local superstition of the Green Devil whose ghostly appearance signals the approaching death of someone in the village.  This was Connington's first detective novel after his sci-fi novel Nordenholt's Millions.  An admirable and entertaining job. Solution is actually given at the halfway point by the culprit himself, but presented as his theory and then dismissed by the Colonel. Two killers are let go since the death of the vile blackmailer was decided to be a suicide at the inquest and the Colonel knows that Hubbard's death saved lives and reputations.  Interestingly, like many writers who introduce supernatural elements into their detective novels only to rationalize them, the sci-fi element introduced at the strat of the book turns out to be completely phoney. Question:  what happened to Connington's sense of humor in the later Driffield books?

 

J.F. Norris 

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