The Case Of Sir Adam Braid

The Case of Sir Adam Braid – Molly Thynne

Molly Thynne is another new author to me, kindly brought to my attention by those Golden Age of detective fiction resurrectionists, Dean Street Press. Originally published in 1930, it concerns itself with the murder of Sir Adam Braid, a curmudgeonly old man and successful artist, in his own flat. The murderer has only a short timeframe in which to have committed the foul deed, but there is no shortage of potential culprits. Inspector Fenn of the Yard, assisted by Dr Robert Gilroy who happens, rather conveniently to be a fellow tenant in the block of flats that Braid lived in.

There are a couple of themes in the book which might strike the modern reader as a tad odd. Most notably is the treatment of the character of Jill, the granddaughter of the deceased, with whom she had recently rowed with, resulting in a threat to write her out of the will. She was at the flat when the murder was discovered. This is more than enough to have made her the prime suspect in many a tale and, dare I say it, real life too, but not in this tale. Fenn happened to have known her from when she was a child and cannot possibly believe that such a sweet, pretty, innocent girl would be capable of such a thing. Clearly, the concept of conflict of interest is terra incognita.

Jill’s good fortune is compounded by the fact that Gilroy is steadily and inexorably falling in love with her. Many stories of this era have some love interest and Thynne provides it in spades. Cupid’s arrow means Gilroy, too, cannot believe that Jill did it. The duo spend as much time trying to prove Jill’s innocence as working out whodunit.

The other interesting point is noise. We are so used to the noise emanating from radios and televisions in rooms and houses we pass by that we barely give it any attention. In the late twenties, seemingly, the custom was to listen to the radio using headphones and allowing the radio to play naturally through its own speakers could cause a passer by to think that there were people in a room. Much of the case revolves around the confusion that a radio playing through a speaker can sow.

Thynne has constructed a complex mystery and Flynn’s problem is that there are so many people who visited the flat during the time that the murder happened including a petty thief, an irate woman and a neighbour wanting to borrow a stamp. As the investigation progresses doubts emerge as to how precisely Braid died and exactly when and to muddy the waters Thynne introduces us to confidence tricksters, known and wanted criminals, and a shifty and highly strung butler.

Fenn’s ability to make sense of it all is in part due to tittle-tattle but he takes a rather inconsistent approach to the purveyors of it. Whilst he is impatient with and downright rude to the prattling Miss Webb, he positively encourages Gilroy to pump his charwoman for information. Perhaps behind this dichotomy lies some prejudices of the time. Elderly middle-class spinsters seem to be viewed as unreliable, World War I veterans are assumed to be inherently honest and those operating on the margins of society are assumed to be de facto criminals.

I enjoyed the book and although the plot was a little creaky in parts, it was a good read and shone an interesting light into the mores and attitudes of the time. I will certainly read more of her works.

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