The Ninth Enemy

The Ninth Enemy – Francis Vivian

Inspector Knollis of Scotland Yard is the detective creation of Francis Vivian the nom de plume of Arthur Ernest Ashley, and The Ninth Enemy is the fourth in the series. Originally published in 1948, it has been reissued to be discovered afresh by a modern audience by Dean Street Press. I have found his work less consistent than others I have read but with The Ninth Enemy Vivian has managed to produce an intriguing and entertaining mystery.    

A policeman is never off duty and a familiar theme of the detective genre is that even when the author’s detective is away on holiday, some foul deed is committed, and the hero is dragged in to solving it. This is the fate that befalls Knollis when he sets out for the countryside in the hope of a quiet weekend. Sadly, his hopes are dashed when Jean Huntingdon finds the body of her husband, killed by a gunshot wound, in dense woods near a river.    

Knollis is dragged into investigate and reassembles his usual team, headed by the stolid and reliable Sergeant Ellis. Huntingdon is a local bigwig who despite his philanthropic acts has a number of enemies in the locale, including a firebrand of a left-wing councillor and the Bishop of Northcote. Both were close to the scene of the crime at the time when Huntingdon was shot. Could the Bishop really be in the frame, shades of Winnifred Peck’s classic, Arrest The Bishop? Which appeared a year later.

As investigations proceed, Knollis is nothing if not thorough, motives are revealed and alibis are tested. Huntingdon’s wife, Jean, had lost her previous husband to an untimely end. Was history repeating itself? Huntingdon was no paragon and Knollis uncovers the fact that he was having an affair with another woman. And what has the toy yacht floating on the river near Huntingdon’s body and identical to one given to his young daughter, Dorrie, for her birthday to do with it all? And just when is the right time to collect honey from a hive?

The story is full of plot twists and red herrings and the answers to all these questions are eventually revealed. However, after a bright beginning the pace of the narrative stalls as Knollis gets bogged in the nitty gritty of his thorough, extensive and exhaustive (in all senses of the word) investigation. Get through that and the pace picks up again, even to the extent that the denouement, compared with the middle section of the book, seems positively rushed. The solution is ingenious and difficult to see coming, although Vivian employs no obvious sleight of hand.

For the modern reader imbued with an iota of political correctness, the attitudes betrayed by some of the male characters towards the women are positively antediluvian and raise more than an eyebrow. It seems hard to believe that just over seventy years ago the answer to controlling a high-spirited woman was to spank her bottom. Attitudes, thankfully in the main, have changed but this sticks out like a sore backside.  

Lamentable as these attitudes are, there is always the risk that you will encounter something that jars with modern sensibilities. They are creatures of their time as we are of ours. Vivian is not one of the best authors in the Dean Street Press stable, but this adventure is entertaining enough to justify a read.

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