In GAD We Trust – Episode 23: What’s in a Watson? [w’ Caroline Crampton]

The companion of the fictional detective — the “stupid friend” as Ronald Knox styled them — is something I have spent far too long thinking about, mainly because the protoype is always taken to be Sherlock Holmes’ chronicler Dr. John H. Watson. Joining me this week to discuss why that might not always be a good comparison to draw is Caroline Crampton of the superb Shedunnit podcast.

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#794: The Eye in the Museum (1929) by J.J. Connington

Eye in the Museum

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Having recently discussed with Martin Edwards the efforts writers can go to in order to keep things fresh, I can understand how, after five books in three years featuring Sir Clinton Driffield as sleuth, J.J. Connington would fancy a change. This might be unfair to Driffield, however, for the simple fact that the plot Connington cooked up for The Eye in the Museum (1929) is about the dullest thing anyone would put on paper in that decade. With interview after interview after interview after interview, we’re not Dragging the Marsh (© Brad Friedman) so much as dying inside. No, that’s not clever; this book has left me unable to care.

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#767: Nemesis at Raynham Parva, a.k.a. Grim Vengeance (1929) by J.J. Connington

Raynham Parve

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When recently retired Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield heads to the village of Raynham Parva to spend some time with his widowed sister and her two children, he is met by surprises on all sides.  On the drive down he encounters what appears to be the shattering of an Eternal Triangle, then he discovers that his beloved niece Elsie has embarked on a nostrum of a mariage to Vincente Francia, an Argentinian gentleman no-one had ever heard of before. Driffield barely has time to tut disapprovingly before one member of that Triangle turns up dead in suspicious circumstances and, despite his questionable official status, he is called in to consult.

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#737: Murder in the Maze (1927) by J.J. Connington

Murder in the Maze

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If ever a classic-era mystery delivered promise after promise in the opening chapter it was Murder in the Maze (1927), the third criminous novel by Alfred Walter Stewart under his J.J. Connington nom de plume. You get near-identical twins, one of who is the lynchpin barrister in an on-going high-profile trial, their wastrel and haphazard younger brother, their mentally-inflicted nephew, their plans to each sit in a different part of their country house’s hedge maze for some peace and quiet, a bunch of house-guests coming and going to odd places, and a suspicious valet. If all this didn’t presage a murder, you’d want your money back.

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#699: Jack-in-the-Box (1944) by J.J. Connington

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The devastation wrought by the First World War in the sheer quantity of life lost saw an upsurge in the popularity of spirit mediums, to the extent that no less an authority on the rational than Arthur Conan Doyle fell under their spell.  Given that this rise in open chicanery coincided with the birth of the detective novel, it surprises me that The Psychic Killer took such a long time to appear in GAD, perhaps owing to its intersection with the impossible crime and the associated difficulties of explaining away the tricks on the page — The Reader is Warned (1939) by Carter Dickson being easily the best example of a very, very small subset.

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#682: In Whose Dim Shadow, a.k.a. The Tau Cross Mystery (1935) by J.J. Connington

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In the comments of my review of The Sweepstake Murders (1931) by J.J. Connington, TomCat pointed out that the author’s sole impossible crime novel was among my recently-acquired bundle, and here we are.  In Whose Dim Shadow, a.k.a. The Tau Cross Mystery (1935), however, begins with a shooting in an unlocked room in an unlocked flat that also has a set of footprints leading away from the open French windows and which forms the basis of the majority of the narrative.  And a very entertaining narrative it is, too, only falling down when Connington shanghais pace for exposition, and struggling in the final straight due, in all likelihood, to external concerns.

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#652: The Sweepstake Murders (1931) by J.J. Connington

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You may have missed the subtle hint I put up recently about buying some J.J. Connington books, but, with 18 to choose from, where to start?  Well, if there’s a GAD touchstone I enjoy almost as much as a “no footprints” murder it’s a tontine, so The Sweepstake Murders (1931), which sees nine associates win £241,920 (or £16 million in today’s money) to be divided among them is a great place to reattempt Mt. Connington.  Because £241,920 spilt nine ways is less each than when it’s split eight ways, which would be less than splitting it seven ways, which would be less than splitting it six ways…you can see how someone starts to think, can’t you?

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#414: The Four Defences (1940) by J.J. Connington

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I had only read one previous novel by J.J. Connington — The Case with Nine Solutions (1928) — about which I remember one clever piece of misdirection and little else.  I’ve had The Four Defences (1940) for ages, but his fellow-Humdrummer Mr. Freeman Wills Crofts captured my heart and swept me off my feet, so amends were here to be made.  Thus, we have the remains of an unidentified body in a burned-out car, an obstreperous coroner insisting on felo de se, and a mystery on our hands.  Cue an amateur detective — with the delightfully pleonastic name of Mark Brand, whose job seems to be giving relationship advice on the radio — to break the case…

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