The Boathouse Riddle

A review of The Boathouse Riddle by J J Connington

Sir Clinton Driffield, Chief Constable, enjoys a busman’s holiday as he starts his well-earned two-month break at “Squire” Wendover’s gaff in this story, the sixth in Connington’s engaging series, originally published in 1931. Inevitably, murder follows him, clumsily disguised as suicide or a tragic accident. And how galling for “Squire” Wendover to find out that his pride and joy, a new boathouse, has been used for nefarious practices and, despite his pride over the security measures he has taken, seems to have been an open house for all and sundry!  

The “Squire”, Driffield’s best friend and occasional Watson, is a melange of prejudices. He cannot believe that his neighbours, who come from the right echelon of society, could be mixed up in anything shady. He is somewhat affronted by overt exhibitions of Catholicism and the exotic origins of Mrs Keith-Westerton cause a stir. One of the delights of the book is to see the scales slowly fall from his eyes.

In truth, while entertaining enough, by Connington’s, admittedly high, standards the Boathouse Riddle is a tad pedestrian. An intriguing character who emerges as the story develops is Cincinnati Jean, someone with real potential which the author deigns to exploit. A missed opportunity, I feel. Instead of character development, what we have are clues galore. The crime scene, where the Keith-Waterton’s gamekeeper has been found, is a detective’s dream – there are footprints obligingly preserved by the morning dew, enough spent matches to make a model boat with, an expensive handbag, helpfully with the owner’s initials on it, and a trail of pearls.

Driffield is front and centre of the book, monopolising the action and the reader follows him around as if they were a faithful lapdog. He discovers that there is more to the case than meets the eye, potential bigamy and blackmail. There is a second death, the body fished out of the lake after Driffield, with Wendover in tow, dredge the bottom. Perhaps I have been unfortunate, but this is the second book I have read in succession where a dodgy Thymus gland has caused the victim’s demise. The tragedy for the culprit of the one murder is that it need not have happened had they been aware of the medical background behind the death that triggered all the shenanigans. Still, there would not have been much of a story left if they had.

The diligent reader can, thanks to the profusion of clues, piece much of what has been going on together, and probably identify the culprit. It is a complicated plot, but not as complex as those Connington produces at his best. That said, the disparate parts of the puzzle are pulled together with consummate style, leaving a complete solution without any loose ends hanging around untidily.

I am as willing as the next reader to suspend my sense of disbelief when reading detective fiction, but this is a particularly messy and careless crime. When I got to the end, I could not help thinking that it did not take the brains of a Driffield to solve this one. Even the most plodding of local detectives may have made a stab of it. I hope the Chief Constable was eventually able to get down to a spot of fishing and a few rounds of golf.

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