The Mazaroff Mystery

A review of The Mazaroff Mystery by J S Fletcher

I don’t know whether it is a blessing or a curse, but my Kindle keeps coming up with suggestions as to my next book to read based on some algorithmic calculation. I usually ignore them. However, The Mazaroff Mystery by Joseph Smith Fletcher kept coming up with an ersatz British Library Crime Classics style cover and as it was at a ridiculously low price I weakened. That’s how Amazon makes its money, I suppose.

The only other of Fletcher’s novels I had read was The Lost Mr Linthwaite. If you decide to get into Fletcher you will find that he wrote around 230 books on a wide range of subjects, fiction and non-fiction, but crime novels, particularly involving fraud, is what he is best known for. His most productive period was the decade from 1920 – he published 50 books in that period – and The Mazaroff Mystery which also goes by an alternative title of The Mazaroff Murder, was published in 1923.

With such a prolific output, my expectations were low, anticipating it to be a formulaic potboiler and while, to a degree it is, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. I am not entirely sure Fletcher plays fair with his readership as the identity of one of the culprits is hard to call and is somewhat of a surprise. The denouement, the last chapter – if you borrow a copy from the library, make sure the last page is intact! – seems extremely rushed in comparison with the leisurely pace at which the early phases of the investigation proceed. The increase in pace does reflect the rush to prevent an escape but I could not help feeling that Fletcher was ready to move on to his next project by that time.

The story is narrated by Mervyn Holt, who, invalided out of the army after the First World War, is at a loose end and answers an advert in the paper from someone looking for a gentleman companion to go touring around the country, all expenses paid. The story is set in a more innocent time! The gentleman in question is Mr Mazaroff, a diamond dealer who has returned to the old country and wants to make a leisurely journey up north to visit his old stamping ground. He is convivial company and a generous employer.

When the pair stop at Marrasdale Moor, where Mazaroff lived before disappearing from England, Mazaroff goes off unexpectedly and his body is found. He had been shot, by the gun of the landlord of the pub in which they are staying. Astonishingly, under the terms of Mazaroff’s will which he recently changed, Holt is the beneficiary to the tune of almost £1 million, over £53 million in today’s terms. Normally, this would be enough to make him the prime suspect. That he is the narrator suggests that he is not and he never seems to be suspected.

Holt is involved in the investigation together with Mazaroff’s solicitor and a private investigator, Maythorne. The local police sergeant, Manners, thinks that it is an opportunistic robbery cum murder as Mazaroff was prone to flash his wads of cash about and carry diamonds loose in his pockets. Mazaroff, inevitably, has a dual identity, there is a potentially bigamous marriage, motive enough surely for Mrs Elphinstone to want to do away with her first husband, presumed dead, and then there is her daughter, Sheila, whom, equally inevitably, Holt falls in love with. And what has the pair of extremely rare and valuable blue diamonds which Mazaroff is trying to sell got to do with it all?

It takes Cottingley, the brightest brain in Europe for these matters, according to his boss, Maythorne, to unravel the mystery but Matters is not far wrong.

It is an entertaining enough novel, without any pretensions to be anything other than what it is, although there is some phraseology, commonplace at the time, that jars on a modern reader. Ignore that if you can and you have in your hands something to pass a pleasant evening or so with.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.