I may have called this week of The Malinsay Massacre (1938) “the investigation” but, in reality, I’m just working through the second half of the case in a manner uncannily reminiscent of how what like I did last week.
At this stage of things, it’s difficult to judge precisely how much that’s directly relevant to the solution we’ve seen. Two people are dead — what I would consider ⅓ of a massacre in fiction — and…that’s about it. Sure, we’ve met (well, been told about) a bunch of locals and some family members of the deceaseds, but I can’t vouchsafe anything close to a motive from the context and milieu, nor could I pick out a killer from the very few characters I can remember (Marx-spouting young men are always an easy Suspicious Type in Golden Age detective fiction, but how many of them actually turn out to be killers?). So, well, let’s jump back in and find out about that second murder and the hopefully four more to come.
The second murder appears to be another “body found dead in bed” affair, with the local constabulary living up to the much-maligned reputation of local police everywhere (“The police are hopeless, and only aggravate my grief by the senselessness and stupidity of their eternal questioning upon side issues which lead nowhere,” the Earl tells us in a letter). The means of murder is clear this time, and a little more in the way of clewing seems to be creeping in: a package sent from the mainland could not have been sent by anyone on the island (apparently confederates can be ruled out…or are simply not being considered), and a handwriting sample exists to tantalise us with possibilities. To cap it all off, more people make their way to the island, doubtless either to die violently or to be on the scene to witness the effects of their murderous endeavours thus far.
Who’d be a classic-era detective, eh?
We hit some contradictory ripples now, with medical evidence assuring us that the Fourth Earl had been dead “at least twelve hours” before being discovered, since it is “likely that death occurred around midnight or in the very early hours of the morning”. But George was discovered dead in the morning (I remember the telegram paper from earlier which summoned Henry on George’s death — I studied it closely out of sheer novelty — and it was sent before noon, so maybe there’s something in this ‘have the evidence in front of you’ approach after all) so…this can’t be right. Shenanigans in the part of the doctor? A mistake on the part of a grief-stricken man? A clue for the attentive reader? Or Wheatley and Links failing to nail down their timeline? Hopefully we’ll find out in due course.
A poison tablet (from which “the poison has been extracted”), a pamphlet on the use of an apparatus designed to capture spirit writing, and a photo of another of the people in our mix of suspects — a lady this time, so not portrayed by Links or Wheatley — and then we dive back into another letter from Henry to Colin. Lord save us from any more letters between Colin and Henry! If I wanted to read a novel, I have plenty of them on my shelves. We reel from the disclosure that the landed gentry were still — at the age of 20 — having hot milk brought up to them by The Help at night, have another photo of another suspect, then another copy of the same pamphlet about spirit writing (this isn’t some accidental doubling up, either — each page is numbered to keep it all in order: the first pamphlet is page 65 and the second page 75…and, yes, they are identical — see above for scans of them both) AND THEN ANOTHER LETTER!! GGAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHHHHHHHHH!!!!
Oh, someone else is dead.
The shame of this is that, had Wheatley employed a few more diverse approaches earlier on when establishing the basic conceits of the story, the reader would be more willing to piece together information from a more diverse range of sources now. This ‘photos inserted amongst lots of letters’ approach makes the whole enterprise feel rather under-thought, the shortest route to cramming in necessary information, like getting to the end of a detective novel and having the suspect spontaneously confess rather than the detective character utilise anything that’s happened in the preceding 60,000 words. The things that are obvious — that handwriting sample on the label shown above, say, is clearly only included to be compared to the various handwritten letters — rub shoulders with sudden info-dumps of letters to Colin that are either tediously repetitive or simply too subtle to know what the point of any of it is.
I’m sure this phase of things is just dragging out the story now, repeating a lot of information — about affairs, family relations, etc. — that we’ve already been given elsewhere. Up to the second murder, this was fun, but in simply rehashing the same principles again and again and again Wheatley and Links have dessicated any novelty out of this. And lest you think that this is mere sour grapes on my part because I cannot see a solution, I’ll admit that I have no bloody idea what’s going on — the only possible motive seems to be the standard one of You’ve Got Wealth And I Want It, so the most likely killer seems to be…well, we’ll have to get into that next week, I suppose, since I’m dragging this out over a month. I’ll spend the next week picking through this, and then attempt to find a way to write for a discussion about the solution to a thing you haven’t read and might not even be interested in. This blog really is the gift that keeps on giving.
There are four murders, by the way. But I suppose The Malinsay At-Best Two-Thirds of a Massacre isn’t very pithy, is it.