A review of Seven Clues in search of a Crime by Bruce Graeme
It is always a pleasure to find a new author and Bruce Graeme, a nom de plume of Graham Montague Jeffries, is a new one on me. This is the first in his series featuring the bookshop owning amateur sleuth, Theodore Ichobad Terhume, known as Tommy to his mates, and was originally published in 1941 and now reissued by Moonstone Press.
It is even more of a pleasure when you come across an author who writes with wit, verve, and no little panache and is willing to turn on its head the hackneyed genre of crime fiction. This is no straightforward crime novel – murder, investigation, culprit unmasked – nor even an inverted murder mystery where you know whodunit and the story is more about how the sleuth catches them, but something even more radical.
Terhune, an ingenu in the field when it comes to the world of detection, although, naturally, he has read all the murder novels, is drawn inexorably into a rabbit hole by a collection of odd incidents and clues (seven in total) which bit by bit lead him to unearthing a crime and, ultimately, a murder. The identities of the victim, certainly, and the culprit, to a lesser extent, are almost throwaways at the end of the story. What interests Graeme is the process of investigation, of picking the bones from a series of seemingly random clues and chance events into something comprehensible. Like Terhune, the reader is drawn into Graeme’s intriguingly convoluted plot, the deeper we go the less able we are to resist the lure of finding out what it is all about. It is tremendous fun.
Terhune’s adventure starts one foggy evening as he rides home from his bookshop in Bray-in-the-Marsh and foils an attack on Helena Armstrong by five men who were hunting for something in her handbag. Helena, who inevitably falls for the bookish Theodore, is the companion to Lady Kylstone, an American widow. Terhune discovers that the thieves are after the key to the Kylstone family vault, which they steal and then raid the vault leaving behind a gold fountain pen with a strange insignia. The sleepy town of Bray, where little happens, is all agog at the developments and Terhune’s unexpected acumen as a sleuth. He learns from Alicia MacMunn that her dead father’s manuscript on the genealogy of the principal families in the area has been attacked with the pages from A to D removed. What does this mean?
The mystery deepens as Terhune discovers a telegram from New York, a piece of paper with the name of Blondie and an address on it, a statue of Mercury, and the curious life of Margaret Ramsay, one time secretary to the MacMunns. Terhune travels to New York, not before an attempt is made on his life on board the liner, allowing Graeme to have fun with an Englishman in the Big Apple, and gains further insights into the mystery.
Ultimately, it is a tale of inheritance, an unacknowledged marriage, and hidden identities which Terhune brings to a point where he can call upon his police mentor, Inspector Sampson, to wrap it all up. It is great fun, laced with humour and some sharp observations of life in a quiet English backwater and a mystery which is well nigh impossible for the reader to solve until the bitter end.