Inquest is one of four Henrietta Clandon mysteries available from Dean Street Press. Many of you will have heard the sad news earlier this year of DSP publisher Rupert Heath’s death, but it has been confirmed that the titles currently in print will still be available as long they have the copyrights. I loved the first Clandon novel I read, Good by Stealth, so I thought I would read another one while I still had the opportunity.
Henrietta Clandon was a pseudonym of John Haslette Vahey, a Northern Irish author who also wrote under several other names, most often Vernon Loder. Inquest, originally published in 1933, was the first of his books under the Clandon name. I’ve never read anything else he has written, so I don’t know how much difference there is between the various pseudonyms in terms of writing style or topics.
The novel opens six months after the death of William Hoe-Luss, an English businessman believed to have been poisoned by consuming deadly mushrooms during a house party in France. Now his widow, Marie Hoe-Luss, has assembled all of the original guests – with the addition of Dr Soame, William’s physician – for another house party at Hebble Chase, her estate in England, where she plans to hold a sort of informal ‘inquest’ into her late husband’s death. However, when one of the guests breaks their neck falling from a high window, it seems that the killer may have struck again.
Although the police do eventually arrive on the scene, most of the sleuthing in the book is done by Dr Soame, who also narrates the whole novel. He’s an interesting choice of narrator as his medical knowledge and previous experience as a police surgeon means he works alongside the detectives at times, while also being one of the party, mixing with the suspects. Soame already knows some of the guests through his position as the Hoe-Luss family doctor, but others are new to him which allows the reader to get to know them along with Soame.
I enjoyed the first half of the book, which introduces the characters as they arrive at the estate for Marie’s inquest – an assortment of friends, family members, business partners and former lovers, which means there are plenty of tensions, entanglements and motives for murder. They aren’t the most pleasant bunch of people, but that’s common in Golden Age mysteries so not unexpected and not too much of a problem! However, I felt that later in the book, after the second death takes place, the plot became unnecessarily complicated and I began to struggle to keep everything straight in my mind.
I really wanted to love this book, so I’m disappointed that I didn’t. It’s a good, solid mystery novel, apart from getting a bit confusing towards the end, but there’s nothing to make it stand out from other similar books in the genre, unlike Good by Stealth, which was unusual, witty and clever. I’m not sure whether I’ll read the other two Henrietta Clandon books – I suspect I’ve already read the best one – but maybe I’ll try a Vernon Loder at some point.