Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Sara Woods, The Windy Side of the Law

Sara Woods, The Windy Side of the Law
Harper & Row, 1965
© 1965 Sara Woods
(Out-of-print, but readily available from used booksellers.)

The seventh mystery featuring Antony Maitland, an English barrister [and his wife Jenny, his uncle Sir Nicholas Harding (also a barrister; Maitland is attached to Harding’s chambers—law firm) and Geoffery Horton (frequently Maitland’s instructing solicitor)] finds Maitland faced with defending—by investigating heroin smuggling charges—his old friend Peter Hammond.  (As is almost always the case with Woods, the title comes from Shakespeare, in this case Twelfth Night, Act 3, Scene 4—and, yes, I had to look it up.[1]  Hammons has awakened in a relatively cheap hotel in London and has no memory of anything about himself or his life.  He finds Maitland’s name in a notebook, discovers his address, and sets out to find Maitland (who is, for all he currently knows, himself.)  He runs into Maitland outside Maitland’s home, and they soon return to the hotel, where two police officers are waiting for him.  (I should add that the desk clerk greets Hammond by name when they return.)

The officers want to ask him questions about a phone call they received alleging that Hammond was smuggled heroin into the country (he has just returned from a business trip to the far East).  And, lo and behold, there are two bricks of heroin in his luggage.  When he returns to his room following some initial questioning, he finds a body—of one of the hotel’s employees—in the bathroom.  And he calls Maitland for help.

At this point there is a rather important issue.  Is his amnesia real of feigned?  A pint that is never addressed in the book, Hammond must have known who he was when he registered at the hotel.  His name is in the hotel’s register (along with his signature) and the desk clerk knew his name.  All he has (apparently) done is sleep.  It’s no wonder the police do not believe in his amnesia; it’s not clear why Maitland is so immediately willing to.[2]

In the course of his investigation, Maitland talks with Hammond’s fiancѐ Nan, with the passengers on the ship on which Hammond returned to England (including another fiancѐ, Elaine), and his brother-in-law, for whom he worked (Hammond’s sister recently died).  Hammond, of course has (or claims to have) no memory of any of these people.  Not much progress is getting made, except that Maitland runs across a number of shady characters (one of whom he once defended).  But Maitland eventually reaches a conclusion (although I’m not sure we as readers have sufficient information to get there and all ends well (enough).

Unusually for a Maitland book, there are no courtroom scenes (which Woods handles extremely well).  The narrative moves well, and if more than usual is made of Maitland’s bad right arm, everything does seem to fit pretty well into place.  While this is not first-rate Woods, it is a good mystery and gives us additional insights into Maitland and his associates.  Well worth seeking out.

[1] The apparent meaning is that the speaker (Fabian) is urging his companion (Sir Toby Belch) to avoid any action that will bring attention to himself, as staying upwind from a deer you are hunting.
[2] Subsequently we get the suggestion that someone gave him a dose of scopolamine mixed with morphine, which is apparently true, at least in some cases (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5535325/)

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