Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Stately Home Murder: Catherine Aird

The Stately Home Murder by Catherine Aird is the third mystery in the series featuring Sloan and Crosby. It was originally published in 1969 in the UK as The Complete Steel. It is considered one of the best books in the series, and also the funniest. Since I have only read one other book by this author (within memory), I cannot speak to that. I can say that it is very entertaining.

The setting and the crime?
The thirteenth Earl of Ornum has reluctantly opened his home, Ornum House, to the public. His home is a 300-room estate with fine collections of china, art and antique weaponry. One young visitor has disappeared to the armory, which was not often visited because of poor access and lighting. He opens the visor on one of several suits of armor and finds a dead body.

The body is found to be that of Osborne Meredith, the Earl's archivist. Apparently he had recently made some disturbing discoveries and someone wanted to shut him up. Permanently.

Who is detecting?
Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan and his assistant, Detective Constable Crosby, are the policemen investigating the crime in this mystery.  The plot centers mostly on the progress of the police investigation, once the crime has occurred.

Crosby and Sloan are part of a small department in Berebury, headed by Superintendent Leeyes...
The information was not exactly welcomed at the nearest police station. In fact, the Superintendent of Police in Berebury was inclined to be petulant when he was told. He glared across his desk at the Head of his Criminal Investigation Department and said:
"You sure it isn't a false alarm, malicious intent?"
"A body in a suit of armour," repeated Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan, the bearer of the unhappy news.
"Perhaps it was a dummy," said Superintendent Leeyes hopefully. "False alarm, good intent."
"In Ornum House," went on Sloan.
"Ornum House?" The Superintendent sat up. He didn't like the sound of that at all. "You mean the place where they have all those day trippers?"
"Yes, sir." Sloan didn't suppose the people who paid their half crowns to go round Ornum House thought of themselves as day trippers, but there was no good going into that with the Superintendent now.
The series is often referred to as the Sloan and Crosby series, indicating that Crosby continues to help Sloan with his enquiries throughout the series. At the author's website, the series is called The Chronicles of Calleshire. Calleshire is a fictional location.

The other characters?
There are too many to list them all, but the primary players are the family and the Earl's employees. The Earl, of course, and his wife, Lady Millicent. The son and heir, Henry, and the daughter, Eleanor. Two nephews, one a black sheep in the family, the other the second in line in succession (and his wife). Two elderly, eccentric aunts. Gertrude, cousin to the earl, who tends to the china and porcelain. Not to forget the Earl's steward and the butler.

My take?
This book has a list of characters at the beginning. I often don't refer to such lists, but I like them anyway. And this time, I did find it useful a couple of times. I confess to getting the members of the household and their guests confused at times.

The book is definitely poking fun at many elements of country house mysteries, but is quite a good mystery in itself. I did have some inklings along the way, at least regarding the why, but I am not sure I ever guessed who. I was entertained by the banter between various policemen and how some of them did not take all of the pomp of the stately home so seriously. The humor was dry and witty.

I definitely plan to read more in this series. I previously read The Religious Body, which I remember as having an interesting mystery plot. I want to see how the series progresses from the late 1960's through each decade. There are currently twenty two books in the series, the last one published in 2010. There is a new book coming out in late April of this year, in the UK.

Other tidbits:
The title in the UK comes from a Hamlet quote:
"That thou, dead corse, again in complete steel
Revisit’st thus the glimpses of the moon..."
The explanation for the US title is fairly obvious.

Catherine Aird is the pen name of Kinn Hamilton McIntosh, born in 1930. There is a very detailed and interesting page about Catherine Aird at the Rue Morgue Press site, which has reprinted some of her mysteries.

This post is an entry for the Crime Fiction Alphabet for 2013.  Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for this letter.

This year, I plan to stick to the theme of authors or books in the sub-genre of police procedurals. At Wikipedia, this is broadly defined as "a subgenre of detective fiction which attempts to convincingly depict the activities of a police force as they investigate crimes."

I was aware that I have a preference for mysteries where the detective is in the police force, but I was surprised to find how many mysteries I own that feature such detectives. This is a good opportunity to feature such stories I really like or read the ones I haven't gotten to yet.

25 comments:

  1. I have not had this series put on my radar before. I'm going to have to look into getting the first book soon. Thanks for the heads up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ryan, I am fairly new to this author also. Hope you enjoy trying one of her books.

      Delete
  2. Thanks for highlighting this one Tracy, I hadn't heard of it or the author before. I do love a country house mystery so shall add this to my wishlist. What a long career the author is having

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bernadette, I love country house mysteries also. I am always thrilled to discover a new one (for me).

      Delete
  3. Tracy - Oh, a new series for me to try. I've heard of it but not yet dipped into it. It looks like this is a nice balance too between the more modern police novel and that wonderful country-house-themed story. I'm definitely interested.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Margot, I think you would like these books. I want to see how the later books have changed... or not.

      Delete
  4. Tracy, I haven't read many "new" mystery series in a long time, not counting the Doyles, Christies, and other traditional writers of crime fiction. I like to read a story revolving around good police investigation. So the sooner the writer plants a dead body the more interesting it gets.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Prashant, I agree. For a police procedural, they need to get that crime out there early in the book.

      Delete
  5. This sounds quite fun and one to look out for - thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, it was fun. As you know, I am not one for humorous mysteries, but this one was just the right amount of humor for me.

      Delete
  6. I read Aird's Amendment of life last year, where the murder takes place in a maze in a stately home. This one sounds interesting I will look for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I will add Amendment of Life to my list. Thanks for the suggestion.

      Delete
  7. This sounds like a good one to read. I have heard of this author before.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scott, you should give it a try.

      Delete
  8. Thanks TracyK - I have read lots of nice things about Aird but have yet to open any fo th books - somethign to look forward to byt the sound of it, cheers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sergio, they are definitely cozy (for police procedurals) but this one was also witty.

      Delete
  9. The butler did it, didn't he? :)

    Also, I'm sad they changed the title for the US edition though. The book sounds interesting. I've never thought about finding a body in a suit of armor but modulo the smell it sounds like a really good place to hide a body.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I usually don't like that they change the title for publication in another country. Makes things confusing. Even though the book indicates it was pretty easy, I don't know how they got the body in.

      Delete
  10. Thanks for the post. I pinned it on my Books Worth Reading board.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am glad you think it is worth reading and hope you like it.

      Delete
  11. Nice. A suit of armor is where I would totally stash a body. Thanks for the review. This is going on my TBR pile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Whoops. Replied to the wrong post. I read it and wondered why the idea had occurred to me before - now I know why. It's because I read it here many weeks ago. :)

      Delete
    2. Peter, that's funny. I commented on the wrong post at another blog today. It must be in the air.

      Delete
  12. Why on earth change the title? Do Americans refuse to buy books unless they're renamed especially for them? Is simplified spelling and grammar also a requirement?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find multiple titles for one book confusing, but I am sure there is no one answer to why they change the title in some cases when the book is published in another country. Generally it is because the publisher thinks the book will sell better with a different title. Just something we have to live with.

      Delete