British Library Crime Classics, 2017 reprint of 1934 original
© 2017 Estate of Anthony Rolls
John Farringdale (who narrates this tale) and Eric Foster are cousins; Foster has studied to become a doctor, and Farringdale, two years younger, is studying to be a lawyer. One of Farringdale’s mentors, oddly, is a chemist (with interests in other sciences, including archeology), Frederick Ellingham. The story begins in the summer of 1913. Through his membership in the London Archeological Union, Foster makes the acquaintance of a famous chemist and archeologist Tolgen Reisby. And, as a result of their meeting and mutual interest, Foster is invited to visit Reisby at his home (Scarweather), in a remote part of Scotland. Foster invites his cousin to come along (in the spring of 1914).
There, they meet Reisby’s much younger wife Helen (she’s in her early 20s; Reisby is, as the story opens, in his late 50s) and their young daughter (Frances). Everything seems to be splendid, but Foster also seems to be falling in love with Helen (and she, perhaps with him), which is likely to create complications. Ellingham is also a part of this visit.
Somewhat later, while Foster is there and Farringdale and Ellingham have returned to England, Foster disappears. The police conclude that he died in a boating accident and his body is lost in the North Sea. At this point we are maybe 25% through the book. We do not reach a conclusion until some 13 years later.
However, there is really no suspense. Anyone who has read even an inconsiderable amount of mystery fiction knows how this is going to end (and Farringdale is continually dropping hints). So, at least for me, there was little suspense, and little surprise in what had transpired. Martin Edwards, in his introduction, notes that the author (whose real name is Colwyn Edward Vuillamy) was himself an archeologist of some note. He compares Vuillamy’s crime fiction (not unfavorably) to that of Francis Iles (Malice Aforethought, among other books). Personally, I don’t see the comparison—Iles’ books are truly suspenseful and psychologically complex. This example of Vuillamy’s fiction is neither.