Review : Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay ( British Library Crime Classics #2 )

Miss . Euphemia Pongleton , a penny – pinching unpleasant spinster is found strangled to death with her terrier ‘ s leash on the stairs of the Belsize Underground station on her way to her dental appointment . Her fellow residents of the boarding house ( somewhat grand – soundingly named Frampton Private Hotel ) , who are dubbed as Frumps seem to have several theories as to the identity of Miss . Pongleton ‘ s murderer . There is the novelist Mrs . Daymer who takes a keen interest in human nature and approaches her social interactions like a study of human psychology . Then there is Betty Watson , the girlfriend of Basil Pongleton , nephew of Miss . Pongleton , a dilettante writer . Basil ‘ s inheritance is constantly hanging in the balance as Miss Pongleton is always quick to get a new will ready in favor of her niece , Beryl Sanders if she is displeased with any of her nephew ‘ s actions and both the cousins have gotten used to the ” getting – the – new – will -ready ” drama taking place once in a while . Gerry Plasher , Beryl ‘ s fiance and the two cousins are waiting to see which one among them finally inherits Miss Pongleton ‘ s fortune . Basil Pongleton had started off on the wrong foot during the police questioning and now he has a bobby constantly shadowing him . As he seems to be making matters worse with each subsequent move , he reaches out to Joseph Slocombe , another Frampton tenant whose advice was good even for his aunt who was not very trusting of anybody . Meanwhile , Bob Thurlow , the boyfriend of the maid Nellie in Frampton has been detained in connection to Miss . Pongleton ‘ s murder . So , who actually murdered Miss Pongleton ?

My thoughts on the book :

Mrs . Daymer brings to mind Christie ‘ s Mrs . Ariadne Oliver . She has her own eccentricities like her preference for the hand – woven material [ . . . ] right from the sheep ‘ s back “ and there are several comical references to the ” natural grease of the sheep ” scent she leaves on her trail . However , unlike Ariadne who primarily assists the investigation and often gets her theories wrong due to her strong reliance on ” female intuition ” , Mrs . Daymer clinches on a seemingly far – fetched piece of information , recruits Gerry Plasher to be her assistant for a day and does some admirable detective work . . .

While we have several Frumps trying to play amateur sleuths , there ‘ s another bunch that is also eager to do some sleuthing for the larger interest of the London public – the journalists of every random newspaper in the city . Her satirical snippets describing the journalists ‘ attempts at trying to obtain information from anybody who is an acquaintance of their Person of Interest or their methods to get people reveal more if they are willing to talk to them hold out much promise for a decent literary career . Perhaps with time , she would have even got better at telling her stories like several of her celebrated contemporaries . Here are some interesting snippets –

[ . . . ] the reporters for the Daily Chat and the Evening Snatch and the Sunday Smatter and their numerous colleagues and rivals , were sniffing eagerly on the trail of Miss Pongleton ‘ s murderer . None of them had been able to glean many details on Friday , although one of them had extracted some very damp reminiscences from Nellie before Mrs . Bliss had intervened [ . . . ]

The journalist ‘ s imagination was fired . He had a vision of the telling article he would write at some future date when Bob Thurlow had been convicted of the murder . ” Who knows what happened on that on that grim staircase on the fatal Friday morning ? We can picture the young man ‘ s entreaties ; the old lady ‘ s stern refusal ; her rigid adherence to the conception of her duty as a citizen – an adherence which was to bring about her tragic death . We can picture the young man ‘ s desperation ” – mustn ‘ t seem to justify him , though , thought the journalist – ” his rising anger , anger which flamed into blind rage . [ . . . ] “

The Saturday morning papers had not been able to elaborate to any great extent the bare facts of Miss Euphemia Pongleton ‘ s setting forth on Friday morning to visit her dentist , and the discovery of her body in the afternoon . They endeavored to allay their readers ‘ curiosity with descriptions of the spiral staircase [ . . . ] They counted the steps and examined the narrow gutter against the wall for clues which might have been overlooked by the police , but as it was choked with cigarette cartons , paper , the scraps of tobacco – the litter of months or even years – it was impossible to pick out anything that might be significant . They noted that the stairs were covered with some hard composition on which steps sounded but faint [ . . . ]

Despite Murder Underground being her debut novel , the engaging and highly entertaining writing and the way she has made every character memorable despite having a good number of amateur sleuths ( to say nothing of the likes of Basil Pongleton ) is a testimony to Mavis ‘ s potential as a writer . . .

Now for the not – so – good – news – I had a vague suspicion as to the killer ‘ s identity as early as Chapter 5 and my suspicions were only confirmed as the story progressed . While the author tries to bring in some red herrings , an astute crime fiction reader can easily see that only one or two characters answer a particular description or seem to have the motives or the opportunities attributed . It became easier to dismiss the red herrings some 75 % into the book and breeze through the chapters to see if my guess about the killer ‘ s identity was right and it turned out that my guess was correct . . . There could have been some changes to the point of time or even the way the reader gets to know the identity of the culprit .While certain characters have still not put together the significant facts available to them to arrive at the identity of the killer , having one character giving out the name of a potential suspect ( or the identity of the murderer for readers who have guessed his identity by now ) earlier in the book killed the suspense for me . Post that chapter where the identity of the murderer ( for readers who have guessed his identity by now ) , the story becomes more of how the others wrap up the investigation to put together the method of the crime instead of a whodunit . I was expecting the author even then to surprise me will a final twist ( which seems to be a favourite with our current set of crime fiction writers ) but unfortunately it did not happen . . .

If you are wondering why there is no mention of the police force , Mavis , like several other crime fiction writers of that age has made the police not very competent and Inspector Caird quite often spins some of the most outlandish theories which even an amateur sleuth like Mrs . Daymer would find laughable . Inspector Caird has some echoes of the paternal sentiments which Hercule Poirot exudes at times . Mavis constantly keeps the police in the background ( literally ) to give the amateur sleuths wider space whether it is ” the fishy looking fellow with police feet “ who is shadowing Basil Pongleton or Inspector Caird who is simply a voice behind a closed door interrogating the Frumps for a good two – thirds of the novel . Perhaps encouraging some youngsters in Frampton to speak to Papa Cairn would have made him arrive at the solution instead of the amateur sleuths . . .

” Inspector Caird smiled at Betty and Basil in a fatherly way . [ . . . ] he felt such a glow of human satisfaction at being able to restore a chastened young man completely vindicated of the criminal misdeeds to the ” nice little girl ” , that he was not unduly downcast by these blows to his professional pride . “

Rating : 3 . 5 / 5

It should have been a 3 if the rating is solely based on the suspense factor of the book . However I loved her writing very much that I am bumping it up to a 3 . 5 . . .

If you have already read the book , you can say in the comments section about your thoughts on the book  . Until the next review then . . .

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