I love reading detective novels from the Golden Age but I’m very aware of the number of authors from that era I still haven’t tried and until now, Margery Allingham was one of them. This is the first of her books that I’ve read but I’m now definitely interested in reading more of them. I understand The White Cottage Mystery was her first detective story, originally serialised in the Daily Express in 1927 before being published as a book the following year, and though it does have the feel of an early effort I still enjoyed it.
The mystery begins with Jerry Challoner driving through a small village in Kent one afternoon when he notices a young girl struggling to carry a heavy basket. Stopping his car, he offers to help, but shortly after dropping the girl off at her home, The White Cottage, he hears the sound of a gunshot. After learning that Eric Crowther, from the neighbouring house, the Dene, has been murdered inside The White Cottage, Jerry calls his father, Detective Chief Inspector W.T. Challoner of Scotland Yard. When W.T. arrives on the scene he interviews the family and servants who live both in the cottage and the house next door and discovers that the dead man was an unpleasant, blackmailing bully. There are plenty of people who have a motive for killing Crowther and who openly admit to wanting him dead, but W.T. and Jerry must decide which, if any of them, is the murderer.
Even though a murder is involved, there’s no graphic violence or anything too gruesome in this book, and the focus is on W.T’s attempts to solve the mystery. Written and set in the 1920s, W.T. uses old-fashioned methods of crime solving – looking for clues and questioning suspects – and his investigations uncover family secrets, blackmail and even connections to a secret society of thieves. The plot is not especially original but there’s still some suspense and a big twist near the end that took me by surprise – I would never have guessed who the murderer actually was and I can see why it took W.T. such a long time to figure it out.
The White Cottage Mystery is really more of a novella than a novel, short enough to be read in just a few sittings, but the plot was resolved satisfactorily and I felt that it didn’t really need to be any longer. Now that I know what Margery Allingham’s writing is like I think I’m going to enjoy exploring her other novels!
I received a copy of The White Cottage Mystery from Bloomsbury Reader via Netgalley.