A review of Mystery at Lynden Sands by J J Connington
This, the fourth in Connington’s Sir Clinton Driffield series and originally published in 1928, sees the Chief Constable on holiday with his faithful sidekick, “Squire” Wendover. It does not turn out to be the relaxing break of golf, sun, and fine dining that he had anticipated, as he is drawn into assisting in the investigation of a murder and what develops into one of Connington’s fiendishly complex and engaging mysteries. You might say it was a busman’s holiday. Although the phrase was current at the time the book was published https://windowthroughtime.wordpress.com/2017/06/09/what-is-the-origin-of-131/) the lengthy gloss deployed when it is introduced suggests that it was not on the tip of most of the contemporary readers’ tongues.
Surprisingly, both because Driffield is a Chief Constable and because their relationship in The Case with Nine Solutions was a bit tetchy, Inspector Armadale invites him to assist. One of the delights of the book is the interplay between Driffield, Armadale, and Wendover, with the latter two vying with each other to come up with the most appropriate theory that accommodates the clues that emerge. Driffield often chooses to keep his own counsel, dropping hints here and there and offering friendly advice whilst striving to keep the peace between his colleagues, a tactic that often infuriates the others.
Inevitably, for a book of this genre and time, Wendover takes a shine to one of the principal suspects and this colours his views on the case and prejudices his relationship with Armadale who takes a diametrically opposite stance. These underlying tensions add an additional layer of complexity to what is a tangled web to unravel.
What turns out to be a highly entertaining and clever book, starts off rather turgidly with a detailed and complicated resume of the Fordingbridge family and its line of succession. The owner, Derek, Paul and Jay’s nephew, is presumed dead, missing after the First World War. Paul has been looking after the estate’s affairs, badly as it turns out, and Jay who dabbles in the occult (cue the anticipated groans and shaking of heads from the ownership) is not only convinced that he is alive but that she has seen and spoken to him at Lynden Sands, although his face is horribly disfigured, and he has lost two fingers. His reappearance on the scene would put a significant spoke in Paul’s plans.
The action begins with the discovery of the body of the Fordingbridge’s faithful servant, Peter Hay, a close adherent of Derek’s. Who would kill such an innocent man and why? Some relatively valueless silver is found in Wray’s house, but no one can believe such a loyal servant would have been salting away the family’s silver. One curiosity that immediately strikes the modern reader is the conclusion that as he had opened the door to his killer wearing a jacket, he was not only expecting his visitor but also the visitor was from a superior class.
Investigations at Foxhills, the family seat, reveal that Derek’s diary has been stolen. More murders follow and it becomes evident that the clue to the carnage lies in the question of Derek’s rights to inherit the estate. Is Paul engaged in a killing spree to protect his reputation and cover his defalcations? Is the man with the disfigured face who appears at Lynden Sands really Derek? Or is there a gang of imposters trying to pass someone off as Derek and eliminating anyone and everyone who might put a spoke in their plans by recognising the imposter for what he really is?
Along the way, we have blackmail, unintentional bigamy, a lesson in the way sand preserves and diminishes footprints, a poisoning involving amyl nitrate which smells like pear drops – Connington, Alfred Stewart, a distinguished chemistry professor in real life, cannot resist the opportunity to impart his knowledge – a damsel in distress, death by quicksand, a gang who will stop at nothing, an intriguing French woman, and a culprit whose resistance is broken by becoming trapped in a cave with the tide coming in. It has almost everything you could wish for.
I would not go so far as concurring with H C Harwood that it “may just fall short of being the detective story of the century”, the turgid first chapter sees to that, but it is an impressive piece of work for all that.