IN WHICH FRANCIS BEEDING EMBRACES HIS INNER TONTINE: Murdered, One by One

As I stated last time, I had the great good fortune to discover that one of the books I picked up during my latest haunting at the used bookstore was also on the shortlist of my friend Bev Hankin’s TBR pile. We decided to read Francis Beeding’s Murdered: One by One at the same time and talk about it together. Herewith is a series of letters that passed between us. Before we commence, however, I find it necessary to quote (nearly verbatim) from the blog of the late, dearly missed, Noah Stewart. (The parts in parentheses are my own.):

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Please be warned that this (epistolary) essay concerns a work of detective fiction; part of its potential enjoyment is based on surprising the reader. If you read any further (particularly the final two letters), I’ll be revealing every crucial element of the above-captioned book, including the identity of the murderer and all relevant plot details. If you haven’t already read this novel, it will have lost its power to surprise you to a greater or lesser extent, and that would be a shame. So please go and read this book before you spoil your own enjoyment. If you proceed past this point,     you’re on your own.

You stand warned! This is NOT a post you want to read if you have not read the book before. Ready? Here we go . . .

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Dear Bev,

I’m excited to share our experiences of Murdered: One by Onetogether! It’s my first time with author Francis Beeding, and I’ve immediately ordered a copy of Death Walks in Eastrepps! Can I start by telling you that one of my favorite things about reading this was the whole, random way it came about? I’ll bet this happens to you, too: you walk into a used bookstore with authors and/or titles in mind (I know you have hundreds of “to be founds” listed on your blog), and then as you’re perusing the messy, crooked stacks on the floor or poking in the overcrowded shelves, something odd catches your eye – a little book with a cool cover, or a title that makes you turn the thing over and read the blurb. As I mentioned in my introduction to this one, I saw this book in a peculiar pile that was not even in the same room of the bookstore as its giant mystery section. I gave it the eye and then rejected it. But when I made my next visit, it was still there, and I bought it! I’m sure glad that I did!

So what was it that grabbed me enough to give (new for me) classic author a chance? For one thing, I’m a sucker for a good serial killer story, but then again, I hate graphic violence, and I could tell from the first couple of pages that there was a twinkling sense of humor in Beeding’s style. Lots of murders and some good yuks thrown in! Who could ask for anything more? What grabbed you initially about the book?

All the best,

Brad

 

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 Dear Brad,

 So very glad to hear from you. As you know, I’m always ready to talk books with anyone who will stand still long enough and when I saw your post not too long ago bragging about  , er–sharing your purchases I was thrilled to see Beeding’s book tucked among them. What a great opportunity to try out a new author with one of my friends, says I. And here we are. 

I’m right there with you on appreciating a good serial killer but then I’m squeamish enough to not want a bunch of blood and gore dripping off the pages. Beeding does manage to keep the gruesome bits off-stage and keep us happy with good humor. But I have to tell you…as with a great number of vintage mysteries that find their way to my home, the main reason I fastened on this one was the fact that it came packaged in a Popular Library pocket-size edition. You know I can’t resist those. I’d already heard good things about his Death Walks in Eastrepps (and actually own it, though haven’t got round to that part of the old TBR yet), so that made grabbing this one up an absolute must. But what really held my interest as I read was that the murderer was mixing up their methods. No getting caught because of a tell-tale M.O. for Beeding’s killer, no sir. Of course, it also helped that the serial killings were all tied up with the unorthodox will left by Valerie Beauchamp. What did you think about that will and the various methods? Did it send you off on any wild goose chases?

 Looking forward to your reply,

 Bev

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Dear Bev,

I know some of our blogging buddies have mixed feelings about that old stand-by, the tontine! Why on earth would anyone have such a stupid idea as to pit heirs against each other. Of course, here we have a woman with a fantastic reason! The opening section with Valerie Beauchamp was my favorite part of the book. On the one hand, Beeding does a nice job setting Valerie up as your classic GAD murder victim: she’s rude to the help (who also happens to be dear cousin Lavinia), and she denigrates each member of the literary society to their face at the meeting. On the other hand, I had to check the date of publication again because Beeding’s presentation of a classic “catfish” moment seemed so relevant. You almost feel sorry for Valerie when the perpetrators of such a nasty joke are all “tee heeing” behind her back.

I have to tell you – and I don’t think it suggests any great cleverness on my part – that I figured out who the killer was right away, but I want to leave that discussion for the end when we can include some “spoiler” letters! However, in answer to your question about “wild goose chases,” I thought Beeding did a nice job of spreading the suspicion around. I suppose I wavered just a bit during that early scene in Marseilles, and there were other nice moments of casting a clue toward this person or that.

The pace here, especially in the beginning and ending, are fantastic, but even more wonderful to me are the characters! What did you think of characterization and pacing here?

Yours,

Brad

 

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Brad,

 Yes, I thought this particular use of the tontine-style will was quite clever. It made a lot of sense when tied into the overall plot. It did, of course, help with figuring the whole thing out. Like you, I identified the killer–though there was one snag (which I will save for the tell-all spoilerific letters to come) that kept me from being 100% sure of myself.

 The characters are really quite good. Valerie as the nasty, much too-full-of-herself romance novelist, Lavinia, the slightly mad poor relation, and the literary circle with their catty ways re: Valerie and their personal worries. I did like that Naomi immediately felt ashamed of her participation in the trick they played on Valerie. I felt a teensy bit sorry for Valerie–even though she was a first-class witch to all of them. They took it just a little bit too far. That opening is terrific–there you have Valerie all dewy-eyed over her (faux) love-letters and we’re set up in this rosy glow of romance and then she immediately ruins the vision with her meanness towards Mrs. Carey the charwoman.  (I do wish I could remember what book that reminds me of. I know I read something with a very similar beginning and it’s driving me crazy that I can’t come up with the title/author to save my life. I’d be interested to know if the author had ever read any Beeding and been influenced by him.)

 The pacing is truly fantastic–particularly once the Councillor is killed. It really picks up and the rush through the initial trial to the denouement back at ‘Avilion kept me turning the pages like mad to see if I was right. 

 One thing about the characters–I didn’t get a very strong sense of the detectives. Inspectors Martin and, especially, Crosby seemed to just be there to provide the official presence, but we didn’t see much of their work on the case. Of course, Martin is necessary at the end, but prior to that he just wasn’t that involved. Did it seem that way to you too or was I just too distracted by the bodies piling up?

 Yours,

 Bev

 

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Dear Bev,

Hmm . . . Mrs. Carey . . . Well, there’s something very “Scrooge”-ish about the way Valerie turns the poor charlady’s troubles into a reason to dock her wages! P.D. James wrote great servants and working class characters – never minor, always fully-fleshed.

I know what you mean about Martin and Crosby. They were pretty much stick figures, and I have a feeling, based on mentions of “The Ponsonby Case,” that this is not their first appearance. Yet, although we don’t really get to know them as men, I think Beeding creates a nice relationship between them, like when they’re sitting down for a beer after a day of investigation. Sort of Midsomer Murders-ish!

What’s odd is that the novel seems like two different kinds of mysteries mashed together: there’s the opening and the suspect-driven scenes throughout, which have a sort of Christie/Berkeley feel to them. In those scenes, the character sketches are marvelous. We barely get to know most of the victims, but in their few short scenes we can picture them so well. The same holds true for many of the minor characters, like Edward Calcott’s mother’s nasty maid or all those fabulous witnesses at the trial scenes. These scenes are richer, funnier and faster-paced than those representing the second type of mystery, the police procedural. The book drags a bit in the middle when Martin and Crosby are running around, accomplishing nothing, but then, as you say, it picks up after Stanton’s murder. I was kind of hoping that Peter the news reporter would end up being the amateur sleuth. He was got out of the way in hilarious fashion!! Only in a novel, right?

I thought the murders were great fun, especially Stanton’s and Miss Tring’s. It reminded me of The List of Adrian Messenger, with which I think this book shares some similarities. But ultimately, it all boils down to those few main characters and how they’re dealing with the situation. I thought Beeding did a great job of shifting suspicion back and forth between crazy Lavinia and handsome cad Edward so that – of course! – I was hoping it would be sweet guilt-ridden Naomi who was the killer. And then we had those side characters who made an impression and then disappeared, like Olive Higham, Cyril Sidebotham, and the mysterious Mr. Teesdale. I agree that Beeding did a nice job shifting things around. But ultimately it all boiled down to that ending.

Shall we get to spoilers???????

Brad

 

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Dear Brad:

 Yes! I was also hoping that Peter would turn out to be the amateur detective who beat the police to the solution. After all, he dug up Mr. Teesdale, didn’t he? Dumping him into the ocean and sending him on a slow boat to Australia just really wasn’t cricket. Amusing, yes. But still a bit of a let-down.

 Here’s a few of the spoilery tidbits I’ve been chewing on:

 As mentioned in my previous missive: Mr. Teesdale and his photographic prowess. I didn’t quite know how he would have accomplished it, but I was convinced that somehow he had concocted all those mysterious fingerprints to plant on the safe, the rake, etc. I’m mean, seriously, why drag in all that about how he calls his camera “Ananias” and “There’s next to nothing you can’t do with a camera. Turn out all kinds of things. I could make a statue of you, Mr. Poynter–as good as any in the British Museum and imitate anything you liked–even to fingerprints.” Oh, maybe I should have realized that Beeding was kind of hitting us over the head with that particular point, but since he was remotely related to Valerie, I honestly think that should have worked into the solution somehow.

 I’m also thinking about how Lavinia talked about how she kept sending her messages and needed her presence long before Valerie actually contacted her–according to Martin. In his final report, Martin says that Valerie didn’t actually contact her cousin until she (Valerie) reappeared at ‘Avilion. Lavinia told him at the time the gun was discovered that “she had received a call from her dead friend to place the weapon on her grave.” The fact that the gun doesn’t wind up being the murder weapon in Freddy Reeves’s death doesn’t affect the question–why on earth should Lavinia take it into her head to bury the gun and make up a story about a phone call OR if there really was a phone call and it wasn’t Valerie, then who told her to place the gun at the grave?

 And this–this is the point on which I couldn’t quite settle when it came to Valerie. So–I suspected her all along. Felt that somehow she hadn’t died after all and had set up that fantastic will to make it look like her victims were killing each other off in order to revenge herself on them. That’s all fine and dandy. But I just couldn’t see my way to getting over that dentist’s having identified his dental work so positively. How on earth would she have been able to find a suitable corpse (or someone to turn into a corpse) that would have the right dental work? It never occurred to me that she would have inserted her own fillings and whatnot into the corpse. Did you figure out that Valerie bashed that poor girl and then settled down to a spot of dentistry?

 How’s that for a first course?

 Bev

 

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Dear Bev:

There are three reasons why I suspected Valerie from the start: first, I share with you my amazement at how shallowly the police dealt with the evidence surrounding Valerie’s corpse. Can we just stop a moment and list a dozen titles where bodies are smashed beyond recognition and dental work is faked? (Ah – One, Two, Buckle My Shoe – choo!) And was it fair play to not reveal until the end that Valerie’s “doctor” father was a dentistand that he trained Valerie to assist him? Of course not.  And I can only imagine how Valerie could know when she picked up that woman – simply because she also had red hair – that she might not have extensive dental work of her own. What luck that Valerie’s dentist didn’t say, “Holy cabooses! When did my patient receive these six extra fillings?!?” It doesn’t wash.

The second reason I suspected Valerie is that the police drop the investigation of her murder right away. Ostensibly they focus on the killing spree mounted against her heirs, but they don’t even discuss how this Valerie’s murder might have something to do with this. The one tiny piece of information I grabbed onto in the hopes that the ending wasn’t this simple was that Naomi’s father had witnessed the will; even though witnesses often see nothing that’s in the body of the document, being a cleric, he might have had Valerie’s confidence and somehow given that information to his daughter who turned out to be a greedy monster instead of a steadfast heroine. Alas, it was not to be.

The third reason I absolutely knew it was Valerie, no matter how well Beeding spread the wealth of suspicion, came about accidentally when I was researching Beeding  about halfway through the book in preparation for this post:

As you probably know, “Francis Beeding” was actually two notable writers and friends, John Leslie Palmer and Hilary St. George Saunders, who met at Oxford and worked together for the League of Nations. Palmer wrote quite a bit of prestigious non-fiction as well, but their work together was prolific and popular at the time. Lots of thrillers, but also lots of whodunits (which gives us some delicious exploring to do!) Their most famous work, The House of Dr. Edwardes, was the basis of Hitchcock’s movie Spellbound.

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The list of titles on Wikipedia was quite incomplete and did not include Murdered: One by One– or so I thought. As I continued to do my research, I came upon our friend Martin Edwards’ review and found out that the other title for this novel is . . . No Fury! Leave it to William Congreve to basically spoil everything for the reader! Murdered: One by Onemight be a bit clunkier and certainly more sensationalistic than the book deserves, but at least it doesn’t give the game away.

Still, I would recommend this to anyone as a breezy, fun mystery read, and I predict a lot more Francis Beeding will hopefully find its way onto my TBR pile!

Any final thoughts?

Brad

 

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Dear Brad,

 You may want to disown me after I confess this–but it has been donkey’s years since I read One, Two, Buckle My Shoe and all memory of dental shenanigans had conveniently fallen out of my head. (more and more I feel like my memory is a giant sieve–but that’s a story for another day).

 And, heavens, yes–the police did drop that initial murder like a hot potato, didn’t they? I should have picked up on that at once.

 I’m in total agreement with your final analysis–this is a fun, breezy mystery that anyone who hasn’t plunged into our spoilers unawares ought to enjoy. I particularly like the suspenseful build-up–wondering who will be next on the list to die. I kind of thought that our romantic couple would be left standing…

 Maybe we’ll meet up again to tackle Death Walks in Eastrepps, eh?

 Thanks so much for the delightful correspondence!

 Yours in mystery & mayhem,

Bev

 

My thanks to Bev Hankins for the delightful Sunday back and forth! And thank you all for following along!

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7 thoughts on “IN WHICH FRANCIS BEEDING EMBRACES HIS INNER TONTINE: Murdered, One by One

  1. There are only 2 books by Francis Beeding worth reading: The Norwich Victims and Death Walks In Eastrepps. (Though I am pretty sure that you will guess the culprit beforehand in the latter)
    The rest are pretty average. This includes The House Of Dr. Edwardes. Alfred Hitchcock had to make many changes to turn it into an enjoyable film!

    Like

  2. I just noted that you have attached your photos with your 4 letters to Bev. The third photo is your current photo, the second photo was taken about 14 years back and the last photo was taken when you were a kid. But when was the first photo taken ? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A tontine has been illegal in the USA for over 100 years. An invitation to murder as we learn in a certain Agatha Christie Miss Marple classic.

    Fun piece. Hadn’t heard of this author before.

    Like

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