Let Him Lie

Let Him Lie – Ianthe Jerrold

Ianthe Jerrold is another writer I have never read, but thanks to the wonderful Dean Street Press and their impressive efforts to bring long forgotten detective fiction to a modern readership, this 1940 novel, initially published under the nom de plume of Geraldine Bridgman, came to my attention. It was a rattling good read and had some interesting points to note.

Firstly, the police, principally in the form of Superintendent Finister, whilst present, are almost consigned to the margins as the story is told through the viewpoint of Jeannie Halliday, an artist-cum-sleuth, who has moved down to an idyllic country cottage in a Gloucestershire to be near her childhood chum, Agnes. Not a typical flamboyant sleuth or one who has an astonishing wealth of scientific knowledge or technical expertise, Jeannie’s main strength is her empathy, which soon elicits confidences, wanted or not, from the other characters in the story. This characteristic allows Jerrold to use her as the fulcrum around which the plot revolves and drip feed clues to her readers.

Secondly, and this is a point of pure interest to me, is that this is the first book I have read that features a major character who shares my unusual surname. William Fone, in truth, is a rather eccentric character, a poet and an antiquarian with a penchant for the history of Ancient Britain, whom the rest of the village regard with a mixture of disdain and amusement. He is bitterly opposed to Robert Molyneux’s plans to open up Grim’s Grave, an ancient burial site, an act which he believes will unleash a curse. Fone sends a threatening letter to Molyneux.

There are two deaths, one of a white kitten and Molyneux himself, shot whilst up a ladder harvesting fruit in his orchard. Are they linked? Although he has the most obvious motive for Molyneux’s demise, is the disabled Fone really the culprit? His home offered a panoramic view of the area and Fone claims to have seen the moment Molyneux was shot. He provides vital information which seems to indicate the direction of the shot but have those who choose to interpret what he has to say forgotten an elementary law of physics concerning the relativity of sound and light?

Jerrold has assembled a varied collection of possible suspects, most of whom have alibis as watertight as a colander. Although most are straight from central casting, she imbues them with enough interest to make the reader want to find out more about them and try to piece where they fit into the picture. Agnes, who is married to Molyneux, turns out to have changed from the girl that Jeanie knew and idolised, growing more loathsome as the story progresses.

The resolution of the plot is quite cleverly worked out and as the tension builds up to a climax, Jeanie’s life is put in danger. By the time the culprit is revealed, I had worked out their identity, more by a process of elimination than any positive sense that they were the ones whodunit. The motive for the murder was more the surprise for me, but once I saw the impetus behind the murder of Molyneux, it all began to make sense.

Jerrold’s characterisation of the foreigner, Mr Agatos, was sensitively handled and, for the feminist reader, the role of the woman in a marriage is given a fair airing, providing the book more of a politically correct feel to the book than is found in many a book from the era.  

I found the book, although by no means a classic, an entertaining way to while away a few hours with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.