The Draycott Murder Mystery

A review of The Draycott Murder Mystery by Molly Thynne

It was a bittersweet moment when I reached the final page of this novel. It meant that I had read all of Molly Thynne’s six murder mystery stories. My last was her first, published in 1928 and now reissued for a modern readership by Dean Street Press. Its original title, in the UK at least, was The Red Dwarf, a reference to a type of fountain pen which has a pivotal role to play in the development of the plot. I seem to be developing a thing about titles, but I prefer the original with its air of mystery to the rather prosaic American title. Either way it is a cracking read.

Given it was her first in this genre, although not her first published book, Thynne produces an impressive story, wasting no time in getting going. John Leslie returns from a walk to his farm in a storm to find the front door swinging open. Upon entering his house, he discovers a dead woman, whom he has never seen, slumped over his desk, obviously shot. With the murder weapon his own gun and having no discernible alibi – he had walked for four hours alone after having a row with his fiancée, Lady Cynthia Bell – the finger of suspicion is pointed at him. The police arrest him and the due process of the law sees him convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.

Stated like that, there seems hardly enough material to make a short story, never mind a novel, even if it is hard to believe that a jury would convict and a judge would pass a capital sentence on what is little more than circumstantial evidence. There is clearly more afoot and Thynne skilfully adds layer upon layer of complexity to make a compelling story which works on two levels; will Leslie be pardoned and who really committed the murder?

As with every Golden Age detective fiction heroine in her situation, Lady Cynthia is convinced of her beau’s innocence and her friend, the invalid Sybil Kean, summons her dearest friend, Allen “Hatter” Fayre, an amateur sleuth, to dig into the case. He agrees to do so and soon discovers that the case is not so cut and dried as it appears.

The murder victim is Mrs Draycott, a woman with a penchant for rooting out dark secrets and blackmail, sister of Miss Allen who disapproves heartily of her behaviour. What has she discovered and does it hold the key to her murder? Why did she go to the farm wearing evening slippers on a stormy night and as a woman who shunned exercise why did she choose to go out on a foul night, who was she meeting and was she picked up in a car with a damaged and incomplete number plate? Why is the distinguished KC, Sybil’s husband, seemingly only going through the motions to prove Leslie’s innocence and why did he take the Red Dwarf found on the ground near the farm?

“Hatter” works through all of these conundrums and gradually pieces together the chain of events that led to Draycott’s demise. Dark secrets emerge from the past and provide the motivation for the crime. I had worked out the likely suspect but why they had committed the crime did not become clear until the end. Leaving the murder, a suicide and a natural death to one side, if you like happy endings, Thynne does not disappoint.           

An impressive debut from an excellent writer in this genre. It is just a pity that she stopped after her sixth. Still, I can always reread them.

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