Dolores Gordon-Smith, As
If By Magic
Copyright © 2009
Constable & Robinson Ltd.
The 3rd of (so far) 10 mysteries featuring Jack Haldean, who, following his service in the Great War, is making a (surprisingly good) living as a writer. He becomes involved in actual mysteries, working with his friend Chief Detective Inspector Bill Rackham. In this case, George Lassiter, whom Haldean met during the War, is the catalyst for his involvement.
Lassiter has come to England to find out what has happened to a legacy he should have received—but appears to have been stolen. Broke, suffering from malnutrition and recurrent bouts of malaria and shell-shock, he breaks into a home after watching the servants leave to see a play. And he falls asleep/passes out in the warmth of the kitchen. He awakens, but, hearing voiced, he hides until he can leave without being discovered. As he prepares to leave, he sees a young woman on the floor of the kitchen—apparently dead. As he hurries out of the house, he encounters the police, tries to convince them that there’s a death in the house. But there is no body.
And, instead of arresting him, he winds up in the hospital, suffering from malnutrition and malaria and (so they thing) hallucinations. He is released into the custody of Haldean until he has recovered sufficiently to be on his own.
The home he invaded is, as it turns out, owned by his grandfather and occupied by the old man, two of his sons, and the widow of a third son. The family is involved in the nascent airplane business, and is in the process of building a large plane capable of long distance fights (the project is building up to a flight (not non-stop) to India, Also involved in the business—indeed, its chief executive, is Alexander Culverton, who has disappeared—until reappearing as a corpse in the Thames. Rackham is on the case (which he thinks might be linked to a series of “Jack the Ripper” slayings of young women, also found in the Thames.
Rackham makes little progress. And much of the narrative revolves around preparations for the test flight of the airplane (aeroplane?), including a lavish dinner and test flight for the press. As Rackham deals with both the “Ripper” killings and Culverton’s death, Haldean’s role is to keep George out of trouble, while trying to do his own writing. He is, unsurprisingly, swept into the investigations.
The story moves briskly enough, but I found myself less interested than I had expected to be. The theft of George’s legacy is resolved, and in a not very startling coincidence, ties into the machinations over control of the airplane business. A lengthy “adventure” sequence that ties a number of things up seemed to me to be unnecessary, and, essentially, an excuse for the inclusion of some not very interesting sex scenes. And hypnotism plays a significant role in the denouement. More than anything else, reading As If By Magic reminded me why I had not picked it up before (I have also read, some years ago, the first two books in the series).