Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Crime at Christmas: C.H.B. Kitchin

This is the first book I have read by C.H.B. Kitchin. The setting is one often used in vintage mysteries taking place around Christmas -- a large house where many people are gathered for Christmas celebrations. This time the house is not in the country but on Hampstead Heath in London.

The protagonist, Malcolm Warren, has an unusual job (for an amateur sleuth in a mystery); he is a stockbroker, and he is visiting Mr. Quisberg, his most important client. Mr. Quisberg's wife has five children by previous marriages, aged from 12 to mid-twenties, so with the family and some of Quisberg's friends, they have a full house, although Quisberg and his secretary Harley have gone off on a business trip.

After dinner on Christmas Eve and a game of bridge, they play a game of musical chairs, and during the shenanigan's Malcolm falls and seriously injures his arm. The doctor (one of the guests) gives him something to help him sleep. When he wakes in the morning he discovers a dead body on a balcony, which is quite a shocker although it seems to have been an accident.

In the next few days, there are more strange and deadly occurrences. Malcolm is suspicious of what is going on in the house, and feels that things are off but he cannot put his finger on the problem. When a second body is found, Inspector Parris shows up. He immediately befriends Malcolm, using him somewhat as a spy in the household, and at the least a source of information. I did not particularly care for the inspector, but he is useful to the plot.

The story moved slowly, but I enjoyed the slow pace. Malcolm tells the story in a first person narrative and he has a lot to say about his surroundings, the house, its furnishings, and it occupants.

He describes his impression of the house...
The less I say about the furnishing and 'appointments' of the house, the better, perhaps. Both Bloomsbury and Belgravia would (for different reasons) have described them as appalling. A few pieces of furniture were beautiful. All of them were expensive, but the general effect was deplorable. Somehow everything about the house was a little wrong. Despite the size of the rooms, they seemed too full. The electric light fittings, specially made in Paris, I was told, did not harmonise with the carving on the walls and doors...
After the first death...
It was perhaps fortunate that it was early in the morning; for at such an hour my emotions are rarely acute. While shaving, I can forget even that I am in love. My chief feeling, I think, was one of annoyance. There we were, all gathered together for a Christmas party, and plunged suddenly into gloom and the menace of official inquiry.
Malcolm is a very strange creature, in a good way. I liked him a lot and did not really care how things turned out otherwise. A lot of the other people staying at the house were also strange, some likable, some not so much.

The last chapter was unusual, wrapping up the story with a Question and Answer session. I liked that also, but some reviewers did not.

Per his Author Bio at Allen & Unwin...
C. H. B. Kitchin was born in Yorkshire in 1895. He read classics at Exeter College, Oxford and, after serving in France during the First World War, was called to the Bar in 1924.
This is the 2nd book by Kitchen featuring Malcolm Warren. Other books in the series are:

  • Death of My Aunt (1929)
  • Death of His Uncle (1939)
  • The Cornish Fox (1949)

See other reviews...
at Beneath the Stains of Times, crossexaminingcrime, Pining for the West, and View from the Blue House.

My husband has provided several of my recent reads set during the holidays. This one, and The Christmas Egg and one coming up, The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley (published this year).


Publisher:   Faber & Faber, 2015, (orig. pub. 1934)
Length:       249 pages
Series:        Malcolm Warren #2
Format:       Trade Paperback
Setting:       Hampstead, London, UK
Genre:        Mystery
Source:      Borrowed from my husband.


Margot Kinberg said...

This does sound like an unusual sort of mystery, Tracy. And you're right; a stockbroker isn't a typical sort of amateur sleuth. It does sound like a 'puzzler,' though, and sometimes, those can be engaging. I'm glad you found things to like here.

Cath said...

Well, C.H.B. Kitchen is a new author to me. It's always fun when someone who isn't a policeman is asked to be involved with the case and help solve it. There was a vicar doing it in a recent book I read, very enjoyable.

TracyK said...

This wasn't a typical mystery for that time, Margot, and I enjoyed that.

TracyK said...

I have a prejudice against amateur sleuths in mysteries, Cath, for some reason. Maybe only when they are in continuing series. But I have learned I should ignore my prejudices and give most mysteries a try, and often I enjoy them.

Ken B said...

Death of My Aunt is one of my very favorite mysteries. Did Malcolm's aunt die from an overdose of her aphrodisiac?

TracyK said...

I definitely plan to find Death of My Aunt, Ken. And later maybe the others in the series.

Mathew Paust said...

Don't think I would like Mr. Warren, Tracy. First, he's a stockbroker. Second...he's a stockbroker... When I see he's "in love" I can't help but hear the strains of Jackson Browne's "Lawyers in Love," which always makes me laff (unwholesomely). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEULVyg1O_8

TracyK said...

I usually enjoy reading about characters in different occupations, Mathew, but with this book, his job was not emphasized that much.

col2910 said...

Probably one I can pass on, thanks

TracyK said...

You are probably right, Col.