A review of The Two Tickets Puzzle by J J Connington
Connington, the nom de plume of chemistry professor, Alfred Stewart, took the bold step of “retiring” his normal police sleuth, Sir Clinton Driffield, in 1929 and his next two books featured Superintendent Ross, an altogether different character. The Two Tickets Puzzle, originally published in 1930, is the second and last of the short-lived Ross series. Ross is a much drier, more diligent detective, not as spiky or acerbic as Driffield and these stories lack the repartee and humour that Driffield and his Watson, “Squire” Wendover, brought to the stories. Recognising that there was a missing spark, Connington quickly ditched Ross and restored Driffield.
The set up for this story is about as conventional as you can get, a murder in a railway carriage. Preston, a wealthy manufacturer, is a man of habit. He does the same things at the same time, insisting every Friday morning on taking the firm’s wages in cash on the train to his nearby factory, despite warnings that this makes him a sitting target. When his body is discovered under the seat of a first-class compartment, the attaché case with the money is nowhere to be found.
Preston takes the 10:35 train from Horston. It is a stopping service but there are a couple of stretches in the journey that would give a determined criminal enough time to carry out the murder and make their escape at one of the following stations. Superintendents Campden and Ross initially look at the case, but because the murder almost certainly took place in his patch Ross takes over. The autopsy reveals one curious feature, Preston was shot with bullets of different calibres.
The story quickly descends into Wills Croftsian territory with detailed scrutiny of railway timetables, the identification of all the passengers who used the train, the checking of their stories and alibis and the interviewing of the principal suspects. These include Preston’s doctor, rumoured to be having an affair with the industrialist’s wife, and a disgruntled former employee who is found in possession of some of Preston’s bank notes. At the same time the police are bothered by a couple of seemingly trivial cases, the theft of a lawyer’s car and the shooting of a prize ram, the significance of which, Bush-like, become apparent as the story ambles towards its denouement.
There are some redeeming features. Connington plants his clues with fairness and precision, taking the reader along with him, but also cannot resist turning the plot on its head so that the reader’s preconception of who are the good guys and the baddies is challenged. Once the storyline had settled down and most of the irrelevancies had been disposed of, the culprit was fairly easy to spot and, frankly, the motivation was rather thin, only delaying the inevitable until the beneficiary reached their majority.
Ross engages in some analysis of typescript which helps him cement his suspicions, although Connington handles this aspect much more adroitly in The Sweepstake Murders which he wrote the following year, and the two tickets are train tickets, found in a suit, without which the murderer’s plans could not have been pulled off.
What is a distinctly one-paced police procedural, more one calling at all stations than an express, is livened up towards the end with a thrilling car chase which produces an explosive finale. Connington, through Ross, takes time to explain how Ross got on to the culprit and how all the clues hung together, and it all makes sense, leaving no loose ends. However, there is something cold and calculated about this book, lacking the vital spark that marks out Connington at his best.