The Ha-Ha Case – J J Connington
Published in 1934 and known in the States as The Brandon Case, this is the first detective I have read by the Scottish chemistry professor, Alfred Walter Stewart, under his nom de plume of J J Connington. As I enjoyed this, the ninth in his Sir Clifford Driffield series, I am sure this will not be the last.
The book falls into three unequal parts and it is only in the third section, about a fifth of the book’s length, that Chief Constable Driffield makes his entrance. The first part of the book, mainly seen through the eyes of Jim Brandon, narrates events leading up to and the immediate aftermath of the death of Brandon’s younger brother, Johnnie. The second section details the investigations of Inspector Hinton, a self-satisfied man, who prides himself on the quality and thoroughness of his reports and who considers himself to be a cut above the average in the brainbox stakes.
Hinton is nothing but thorough and he assembles all the pieces of a complex jigsaw. His problem, though, is that he cannot assemble them into a coherent whole and instead of solving what would be his greatest case and one that would make his name, he has to suffer Driffield coming in and putting together an elegant solution to a tricky problem. Driffield is at least gracious enough to recognise and praise Hinton for assembling an impressive array of clues, although it cuts no ice with the Inspector.
Jim Brandon arrives at the Edgehill estate on the eve of his younger brother’s coming of age birthday. He is concerned because he thinks that Johnnie has come under the malign influence of Laxford and that the Brandon’s estate, run into the ground by their spendthrift father, is going to slip from their grasp. To celebrate Johnnie’s birthday there is a shooting party and, yes, there is an accident and Johnnie is killed. Was it suicide, as it looked initially, or was it murder and, if so, who was the culprit?
Hinton’s investigations reveal that there was no blood at the spot that Laxford and his shifty companion claimed to have found the body, but, where there was at the spot where they moved the body. His analysis of the angles of the shot rules out suicide. At the time of the incident a man suffering from mental issues suddenly appears at the scene carrying Laxford’s gun. What is his role in it all? There is a complex web of insurance policies on Johnnie’s life and he had signed a deed which made Laxford’s wife the beneficiary. The deed only became legal when Johnnie reached the age of 21, the day that he had died? What, if anything, had that to do with it? The Laxfords too were short of cash and stood to gain for Johnnie’s untimely demise.
Hinton’s carefully prepared case is swiftly demolished by Driffield whose greater knowledge of cartridges and ballistics – Hinton took pride in not being a shooting man – and his understanding of the quaint English legal quirk of ultimogeniture enables him to unmask the real culprit. As there are only four possible culprits, once suicide is ruled out, it was relatively easy for the reader to sift the red herrings (and there are a lot of them) from the real clues but it took me a while to twig motive.
I found it an excellently constructed plot. The situation that was presented to Hinton allowed for two possible interpretations and Connington takes delight in leading the reader through Hinton’s thought processes and the logical conclusions that resulted, only to allow the story to swerve in a different direction. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will look forward to my next encounter with Sir Clifford Driffield. I just hope I get to know him better.