The Murder on the Enriqueta – Molly Thynne
This is the second of Molly Thynne’s murder mystery novels, initially published in 1929 and now reissued for a modern audience by Dean Street Press. In the United States it was known by a different title, The Strangler. Although I enjoyed the book, it has a rather odd structure, the result of a complicated plot. It also runs through the staple themes that you would expect to find in a book of this genre at that time – nightclubs, kidnappings, suave foreigners, an innocent, naïve maiden who has an inner core of strength, and her devoted lover. It could easily have become rather cliched but Thynne writes with enough verve and vigour and has enough surprises up her sleeve to pull it off, serving up and entertaining few hours of escapism.
The early part of the book is set on the Enriqueta, a liner returning to Liverpool, where a rather obnoxious drunkard by the name of Mr Smith, who has lost all of his money on the gambling tables, is found dead, strangled. A steward catches a brief sight of the supposed murderer, clad in green silk pyjamas and with a bandage or a muffler over their face. Inspector Shand, a Scotland Yard detective who just happens to be on the boat, takes charge of the investigation and draws a blank on anyone who wears such a natty pair PJs, but wonders whether the murder has anything to do with the criminal activities he was investigating in Argentina.
After getting off to a cracking start, the pace of the book stalls somewhat as we are introduced to the affairs of the Dalberry family. For all of their money, they have been dogged by ill fortune, Colin, the pater familias, and his two sons dying in an air crash. The family title and estate pass to Adrian, who, would you believe it, is killed along with his maid, in Argentina on the way to the port to get a boat back to Blighty. His wife, Lady Dalberry and the former Miss Larsen of New York, survives the crash. In another twist that stretches the reader’s credulity, she is a passenger on the Enriqueta.
Claire, who lost her mother when young and was sent to live on the Dalberry estate with Gillie who has the hots for her, is in line to inherit all when she reaches the age of 21, making her one of the richest women in England. Criminal elements have designs on ensuring that she does not get to celebrate her coming of age. Will they succeed and what, if any, is the link between Lady Dalberry, the plot to remove Claire from the scene and the death of Smith on board the Enriqueta? Shand returns to the story to unravel the various skeins of a complicated which took the pace out of the book for Thynne to set up.
Once the backstory has been established, the pace picks up, the narrative cranking through the gears to reach full steam ahead. There are the anticipated twists and turns, red herrings and more carnage before the case is finally resolved. It is another one of those stories where transvestism has a role to play. I wonder if cross-dressing was really as endemic as writers of Golden Age Detective fiction seem to imply and whether people’s eyesight was so poor that it could be someone could easily pass themselves off as a member of the opposite sex.
Thynne somewhat hamstrung herself with a complex plot that really required two openings. Once she had navigated her way out of those treacherous shoals, she succeeded in producing an entertaining enough read that would appeal to fans of Patricia Wentworth. It is not her finest book and I was not so enamoured by it to break out into verse to celebrate it as a reviewer for Punch did on its release. Still, it provides a pleasurable few hours of escapist nonsense.