Tag Archives: Molly Thynne

The Draycott Murder Mystery

A review of The Draycott Murder Mystery by Molly Thynne

It was a bittersweet moment when I reached the final page of this novel. It meant that I had read all of Molly Thynne’s six murder mystery stories. My last was her first, published in 1928 and now reissued for a modern readership by Dean Street Press. Its original title, in the UK at least, was The Red Dwarf, a reference to a type of fountain pen which has a pivotal role to play in the development of the plot. I seem to be developing a thing about titles, but I prefer the original with its air of mystery to the rather prosaic American title. Either way it is a cracking read.

Given it was her first in this genre, although not her first published book, Thynne produces an impressive story, wasting no time in getting going. John Leslie returns from a walk to his farm in a storm to find the front door swinging open. Upon entering his house, he discovers a dead woman, whom he has never seen, slumped over his desk, obviously shot. With the murder weapon his own gun and having no discernible alibi – he had walked for four hours alone after having a row with his fiancée, Lady Cynthia Bell – the finger of suspicion is pointed at him. The police arrest him and the due process of the law sees him convicted of murder and sentenced to hang.

Stated like that, there seems hardly enough material to make a short story, never mind a novel, even if it is hard to believe that a jury would convict and a judge would pass a capital sentence on what is little more than circumstantial evidence. There is clearly more afoot and Thynne skilfully adds layer upon layer of complexity to make a compelling story which works on two levels; will Leslie be pardoned and who really committed the murder?

As with every Golden Age detective fiction heroine in her situation, Lady Cynthia is convinced of her beau’s innocence and her friend, the invalid Sybil Kean, summons her dearest friend, Allen “Hatter” Fayre, an amateur sleuth, to dig into the case. He agrees to do so and soon discovers that the case is not so cut and dried as it appears.

The murder victim is Mrs Draycott, a woman with a penchant for rooting out dark secrets and blackmail, sister of Miss Allen who disapproves heartily of her behaviour. What has she discovered and does it hold the key to her murder? Why did she go to the farm wearing evening slippers on a stormy night and as a woman who shunned exercise why did she choose to go out on a foul night, who was she meeting and was she picked up in a car with a damaged and incomplete number plate? Why is the distinguished KC, Sybil’s husband, seemingly only going through the motions to prove Leslie’s innocence and why did he take the Red Dwarf found on the ground near the farm?

“Hatter” works through all of these conundrums and gradually pieces together the chain of events that led to Draycott’s demise. Dark secrets emerge from the past and provide the motivation for the crime. I had worked out the likely suspect but why they had committed the crime did not become clear until the end. Leaving the murder, a suicide and a natural death to one side, if you like happy endings, Thynne does not disappoint.           

An impressive debut from an excellent writer in this genre. It is just a pity that she stopped after her sixth. Still, I can always reread them.

The Murder On The Enriqueta

The Murder on the Enriqueta – Molly Thynne

This is the second of Molly Thynne’s murder mystery novels, initially published in 1929 and now reissued for a modern audience by Dean Street Press. In the United States it was known by a different title, The Strangler. Although I enjoyed the book, it has a rather odd structure, the result of a complicated plot. It also runs through the staple themes that you would expect to find in a book of this genre at that time – nightclubs, kidnappings, suave foreigners, an innocent, naïve maiden who has an inner core of strength, and her devoted lover. It could easily have become rather cliched but Thynne writes with enough verve and vigour and has enough surprises up her sleeve to pull it off, serving up and entertaining few hours of escapism.

The early part of the book is set on the Enriqueta, a liner returning to Liverpool, where a rather obnoxious drunkard by the name of Mr Smith, who has lost all of his money on the gambling tables, is found dead, strangled. A steward catches a brief sight of the supposed murderer, clad in green silk pyjamas and with a bandage or a muffler over their face. Inspector Shand, a Scotland Yard detective who just happens to be on the boat, takes charge of the investigation and draws a blank on anyone who wears such a natty pair PJs, but wonders whether the murder has anything to do with the criminal activities he was investigating in Argentina.

After getting off to a cracking start, the pace of the book stalls somewhat as we are introduced to the affairs of the Dalberry family. For all of their money, they have been dogged by ill fortune, Colin, the pater familias, and his two sons dying in an air crash. The family title and estate pass to Adrian, who, would you believe it, is killed along with his maid, in Argentina on the way to the port to get a boat back to Blighty. His wife, Lady Dalberry and the former Miss Larsen of New York, survives the crash. In another twist that stretches the reader’s credulity, she is a passenger on the Enriqueta.

Claire, who lost her mother when young and was sent to live on the Dalberry estate with Gillie who has the hots for her, is in line to inherit all when she reaches the age of 21, making her one of the richest women in England. Criminal elements have designs on ensuring that she does not get to celebrate her coming of age. Will they succeed and what, if any, is the link between Lady Dalberry, the plot to remove Claire from the scene and the death of Smith on board the Enriqueta? Shand returns to the story to unravel the various skeins of a complicated which took the pace out of the book for Thynne to set up.

Once the backstory has been established, the pace picks up, the narrative cranking through the gears to reach full steam ahead. There are the anticipated twists and turns, red herrings and more carnage before the case is finally resolved. It is another one of those stories where transvestism has a role to play. I wonder if cross-dressing was really as endemic as writers of Golden Age Detective fiction seem to imply and whether people’s eyesight was so poor that it could be someone could easily pass themselves off as a member of the opposite sex.

Thynne somewhat hamstrung herself with a complex plot that really required two openings. Once she had navigated her way out of those treacherous shoals, she succeeded in producing an entertaining enough read that would appeal to fans of Patricia Wentworth. It is not her finest book and I was not so enamoured by it to break out into verse to celebrate it as a reviewer for Punch did on its release. Still, it provides a pleasurable few hours of escapist nonsense.

The Crime At The Noah’s Ark

Molly Thynne only wrote six crime novels, three of which featured the chess-playing Dr Constantine, and I have been eking them out as it never does to have too much of a good thing in a short space of time. It seems odd to be reviewing a book set around Christmas at this time of the year but I have read so many books during the pandemic that not wanting to turn this blog into an ersatz Goodreads that’s how the scheduling has panned out. Anyway, it is never too early to plan your festive season reading.

Published initially in 1931, it has been reissued for a modern readership by the indefatigable Dean Street Press. The story starts on familiar and somewhat hackneyed ground. Bad weather forces a group of disparate travellers, including Constantine, to abandon their plans to reach a luxury holiday resort where they were going to spend Christmas, and seek refuge at the Noah’s Ark, a hostelry large enough and under patronised enough to accommodate them all. The party is a motley crew, including a best-selling author, Angus Stuart, a pair of spinster sisters, Lord Romsey with his son and two daughters, Major Carew who is rather too fond of the bottle and the ladies, the attractive Mrs Orkney Cloude, the careless American widow, Mrs van Dolen, who is famed for her collection of fine jewels, her secretary, Miss Hamilton, a gigolo in the form of Felix Melnotte and a shy accountant by the name of Trevor.

In what is essentially an extension of a closed room mystery, Major Carew gets himself murdered and Mrs van Dolen is relieved of her jewels. Are the two crimes linked and who, among the guests, perpetrated the crimes? Into this heady mix, Thynne adds a shoal of red herrings, a dash of love interest, masked men who disturb guests during the night, a spate of car tyre slashings and a general atmosphere of paranoia and unease.

Responsibility for investigating and solving the goings-on at the Noah’s Ark falls upon Constantine, ably assisted by Stuart and Soames who do much of the heavy lifting aka nightime vigils and jumping in and out of windows, while the amateur sleuth directs operations using his heightened observational powers. Thynne has saddled herself with quite a cast list, augmented even further when you add in the poor landlord and his staff, who would probably have preferred a quiet and unprofitable Yuletide to the mayhem that the sudden influx of unexpected guests has caused. To her credit, though, each of the characters is well-drawn and it is easy to keep tabs on who is who as the narrative progresses and who to discount and who to focus on.

The whereabouts of the jewels and who ultimately stole them is relatively easy to deduce, but the underlying motives and crime prove more problematic. I’m not sure Thynne plays totally fair with her readers and although I had my suspicions as to what it was all about, I had not put all the pieces together by the denouement. I will not spoil your enjoyment but, suffice to say, not everyone is who they seem to be.             

I don’t think Noah’s Ark ranks as one of her best books, but if you are looking for a bit of light-entertainment to keep you amused as you slump in an armchair after a heavy Christmas meal, you cannot do much better than this. It is fast paced and well-written, a tad eccentric and delightful fun.

He Dies And Makes No Sign

He Dies and Makes No Sign – Molly Thynne

It is always a smart move to sign off leaving the audience wanting more. Published originally in 1933 and reissued for a modern readership by Dean Street Press, this is Molly Thynne’s sixth and final murder mystery and her third involving her chess-playing amateur ‘tec, Dr Constantine, and Inspector Arkwright of the Yard. In truth, it is less of a murder mystery, the culprit is easy to spot and is unmasked only two-thirds of the way through, leaving the rest of the book, where the pace quickens, to develop into a fast-paced thriller.

There is a delicious vein of humour running through the book. The formidable Duchess of Steyne, who calls in Constantine to assess the suitability of her potential daughter-in-law, Betty Anthony, against whom she has taken a dislike without seeing her, is delightfully drawn and, one can imagine, typical of her class. The pair of ju-jitsu masters are amusing additions to the storyline and play their part not only unravelling the mystery but also help Constantine escape from a tricky situation. Even when the plot is moving at pace Thynne finds time to inject humour, not least when the Duke of Steyne loses his hat.

The book’s rather odd title is a quotation from Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 2. To give it some context, the Earl of Warwick responds, “so bad a death argues a monstrous life” to which the king replies, “forbear to judge, for we are sinners all”. The poor unfortunate who suffers so bad a death is a violinist, Julius Anthony, who disappears and is found stuffed in the nether regions of the cinema he performs at. In investigating how he died, why and who killed him, Constantine and Arkwright unearth a family secret, explaining why there are concerns about Betty Anthony’s suitability to marry into the Steyne family, nefarious goings on at the Trastevere restaurant situated in the grounds of the Steyne’s mansion, and an international drugs cartel.

Anthony seemingly has led a blameless existence, little warranting such a tragic ending. However, he has unearthed a secret which will threaten to blow the cover of what we would consider now as a front for more sinister activities. We tend to think of drug running and the liberal consumption of cocaine as a modern-day problem, but it is interesting to see how many Golden Age detective stories, at least those that I have read, feature this aspect so prominently.   

There is a welcome return for Manners, Constantine’s butler, who reprises his role in Death in the Dentist’s Chair by unearthing some valuable information from the lower orders. The rigidity of the English class system pervades the book, but does not spoil the read, simply reflecting the attitudes that pertained at the time. Instrumental in the final elements of this tale is a character who has barely featured in the story to that point. It just enhances the sense that the justice meted out is ironic and deserved, a more satisfying end than if the forces of law and order were allowed to swing into action.  

Thynne’s books are so good, well-written with good plotting and characterisation that it is a mystery why she stopped writing. Perhaps she had grown frustrated with the limitations of the genre. I’m looking forward to reading her other three books and am sure, over the next few years, I will be rereading them, something I rarely do.

Death In The Dentist’s Chair

Death In The Dentist’s Chair – Molly Thynne

I hate going to the dentist and this book did nothing to assuage my dread of the experience. As well as the heightened anticipation of what is to befall me as I sit open-mouthed in the chair, I am hit with the realisation that I am at the mercy of the dentist. I have placed my faith implicitly in them. Published in 1932 Thynne’s murder takes place in a dentist’s chair, as the title suggests, and replicated the locus and method used by Brian Flynn in his The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye four years earlier, and, of course, the better-known dentist murder mystery is Agatha Christie’s much later, One Two, Buckle My Shoe from 1940.

The book’s opening tells the story through the eyes of Mr Cattistock who leaves the surgery of society dentist, Humphrey Davenport, having had several of his teeth removed. He is rather groggy, as well he might be. In the waiting room are the wife of a Hatton Garden jeweller, Lottie Miller, Sir Richard Pomfroy and the widow of a theatre owner, Mrs Vallon. Cattistock takes an instant dislike to Mrs Miller who is next to go into the consulting room. Davenport leaves her there to go to his workshop to adjust her dentures, gets locked in there and by the time he is released and returns to the room, Mrs Miller has had her throat slashed with a Chinese dagger.

As Cattistock leaves the premises, Thynne’s amateur sleuth, Dr Constantine, arrives for his own check-up. Naturally, he is a friend of the Scotland Yard officer in charge of investigations, D I Arkwright, and lends a hand. Just to add some further complexity into the case, one of the jewels Mrs Miller was wearing has gone missing and later in the book there is a further murder, again bearing all the hallmarks of being committed with a Chinese dagger. Whodunit and why?

All those on the premises at the time of the murder fall under suspicion either because they have some conceivable motive or their behaviour around the time of the murder seem suspicious. Despite plausibly being a suspect himself as he was on the premises, Constantine is not considered as the likely murderer. What it is to have friends in high places.

In some ways it is tempting to see Constantine, an elderly chess playing sleuth, as a Holmes manque and he does seem to treat the case as an intellectual puzzle. I was concerned as the book seemed to descend into a literary version of a game of Cluedo as each suspect has their alibis challenged, dissected, and accepted. Perhaps Thynne was conscious that the momentum of the book was waning, running the risk of losing the reader’s interest because the book suddenly lurches into action beyond the midway point.

The solution is ingenious and complex as Thynne drip feeds more and more of backstory into the narrative, requiring the reader to re-examine their preconceptions of each of the characters. There are no loose ends, as far as I could tell, and the reader could tell how Constantine reached his conclusions, which is all we can ask for.

What might otherwise would have been a tedious closed room murder mystery was ingeniously rescued and transformed into a riveting read.