The Figure Of Eight

A review of The Figure Of Eight by Cecil Waye

This is the second of a quartet of books that John Street wrote under the nom de plume of Cecil Waye, published originally in 1931 and now reissued by Dean Street Press. It features Christopher Perrin, although his sister, Vivienne, who took the leading role in the first book, has now been married off and replaced by a male assistant, David Meade. This book is more of a thriller than a detective novel, none the worse for that, and, if you are able to suspend belief, is exciting and a page turner. The culprit, for those who have not worked out whodunit, is revealed in the very last words of the book.

We enter the world of Allingham and Wentworth with a tale of international conspiracies and impending world conflict, natural concerns in the fraught geopolitical aftermath of the First World War. Two Central American states are in dispute over a piece of mineral-rich territory and the diplomatic consequences of the struggle are being played out in London with potentially catastrophic consequences for the world in general.

The book opens with the discovery of a woman in a deep sleep on a London bus. She boarded it with a conspicuously Latin-looking man who kissed her and hopped off before the bus reached the terminus. There is a strain of little Englander and condescension and suspicion towards Johnny Foreigner running through this book.

Identified as Lola Martinaes, a native of Montedoria, one of the disputatious states, the poor woman eventually dies. Vincente de Lanate, the cheerleader for the Montedorian cause, visits Christopher Perrin, concerned about the loss of some very sensitive papers and suggests that La Martinaes was murdered with the use of a powerful and effective drug. Fortunately, Perrin has the good sense to do some investigation into the drug and enlists the aid of an eminent toxicologist to manufacture him an antidote. It will come in useful.

Perrin, not once but twice, is foolish enough to fall into a trap which ends up with him taking a sizeable dose of the poison but, fortunately, the unproven antidote comes up trumps on both occasions. His stupidity does at least allow him to get nearer to the bottom of the mystery, which deepens as de Lanate himself and two other Montedorians are killed in mysterious circumstances. Their bodies were found by a London taxi driver who, as the book, progresses does not seem to be all that he seems.      

It is a complicated plot and the police and Perrin have their work cut out to make sense of the pieces. There is a surprising hint of modernity as the book ends with the police flying from Croydon airport down to Southampton harbour in a frantic effort to beat the boat train to its destination. Naturally, they get there in the nick of time to effect the arrest and unmask the Mr Big.

The figure of eight in the title, or more accurately the infinity sign, is the sign of a secret Central American society. I am not sure we know much more about Christopher Perrin than we did before. His sister came across as the sharpest knife in the drawer and she surely would not have made some of Perrin’s more elementary mistakes. The book, though, is great fun and it works, if you are happy to go along with the premise.   

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