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by James Anderson
Allison & Busby, February 2009
350 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749079533

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It is the 1930's and the Earl of Burford has fallen in love with the talkies, especially Rex Ransom an Errol Flynn-type action hero. So when Hollywood producer Cyrus Haggermeir gets in touch to say he wants to come and look at Alderley, the Earl's ancestral seat, as a possible venue for his next movie, bringing Rex, the proposed star of that movie, to stay as well, the Earl is delighted to accept. Lady Burford is less keen, especially when the house-party rapidly expands to include Cecily Everard, a long-lost cousin of hers and her new husband Sebastian, Arlington Gilbert the film's proposed writer and his secretary, not to mention two suitors of her daughter Geraldine, an Italian film-star and a young lady who has arrived to catalogue the library. This mix proves highly combustible and it is not surprising when a murder occurs. Although the culprit seems at first hand obvious Chief Inspector Wilkins has his doubts and raises no objections when his Chief Constable calls in St John Allgood - one of the three A's (Appleby, Alleyn and Allgood!) from Scotland Yard.

Hopefully it will be obvious from this plot summary that Anderson's terrain is that of pastiche and imitation. This is a country-house mystery from the thirties that was originally published in 1981 and Anderson has no wish to challenge or question any of the conventions which might be seen as governing such mysteries. While his tongue is slightly in his cheek and the book's tone is light-hearted Anderson's central concern is to produce a rattling good whodunit. This indeed was also his aim in the first book in the series, THE AFFAIR OF THE BLOODSTAINED EGG COSY, which featured the same cast in terms of the Burfords and Wilkins, and more strikingly the same location. So readers of the first book will already be familiar with the secret passage, the Earl's fabulous gun collection, the picture gallery and so on. Not that any previous knowledge is required and THE AFFAIR OF THE MUTILATED MINK is a considerable improvement on its predecessor because Anderson keeps his plotting simpler and more under control. 'Simpler' here is a comparative term of course; there is still an abundance of red herrings, double bluffs, sub-plots and false identities. Indeed the prevalence of the latter bring to mind P.G.Wodehouse as much as Christie - Blandings Castle (and Alderley is more reminiscent of Blandings than any Golden Age mystery country house) always abounded with imposters.

While it is a delightful read in itself THE AFFAIR OF THE MUTILATED MINK stands or falls by the success of its plotting and I am delighted to say that it stands triumphantly. While there can probably be nothing new in mystery plotting - and the plot here although very differently resolved and portrayed is reminiscent of at least one Christie - Anderson's imagination and control of his material is such that one is kept constantly guessing and the final resolution ties up every loose end in the most satisfactory manner. Many writers attempt this kind of pastiche/imitation but very few have the talent to pull the trick off. This is a book to be read at one sitting - find your most comfortable seat or posture, supply yourself with your favourite beverage and snack, and abandon yourself to pleasure for three or four hours.

Reviewed by Nick Hay, July 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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