'What is truth?' Sheringham said mockingly. 'Is it what might have happened, is it what was meant to happen, is it what ought to have happened, or is it only what prosaically did happen? That's one of the things we've got to tresh out this morning'
"The Second Shot"
I seldom read what a book is about for authors/series I already know, so I often have totally different expectations for books based on their titles. I thought that Roger Sheringham and The Vane Mystery would involve weather vanes. And of today's book, I was expecting golf. Also: I still think Langtail Press’ covers are absolutely horrible.
Anthony Berkeley's Roger Sheringham series often plays with the conventions of detective fiction, the characters of the story are usually not as meta-concious as the framework that forms their world. For if the party gathered at Minton Deeps Farm had known they were inside a detective story, they would have never thought of the idea of performing a murder play, nor would they had chosen Eric Scott-Davies (who was the source and target of a lot of negative thoughts) to play the murder victim. Two shots in the forest announced the real death of Mr. Eric, who had been alone in the forest after having fulfilled his role as fake body and now turned into a genuine one. While it seemed an accident at first, police suspicions quickly focus on Cyril Pinkerton, who seeks the help of his friend and succesful amateur detective (*cough*), Roger Sheringham. Can our Roger help Cyril in The Second Shot?
The Second Shot (1930) was published one year after The Poisoned Chocolates Case and is in presentation the complete opposite. Whereas we followed a variety of detectives in The Poisoned Chocolates Case, each with their own style of
Series detective Roger Sheringham is called in not to solve the case (as Cyril believes the victim deserved to die), but only to save Cyril from being arrested. Because of this goal, the main investigations parts of this book aren't about finding whodunnit, but are more focused on the direction of Cyrildinnot. Such a theme is seen more often in courtroom mysteries, but it's also slightly reminiscent of how Roger fixed evidence in Jumping Jenny to make Mrs. Stratton's death seem a suicide. As for comparisons to other series: Van Madoy's Revoir series usually features intellectual tennis rallies between the defense and prosecution about whether the defendant is guilty or not, with both sides constantly coming up with new theories and evidence as the trial continues.
As for the main mystery plot itself; like often with Berkeley's plots, the main premise is very simple and the whole thing only seems complex because everyone is covering for someone else. But I might have become used to his plots, or this one was particularly easy, but I got everything of The Second Shot quite some time before the finish line. Then again, I don't read Berkeley for puzzle plots, I just want to see how he explores the role of the detective in fiction.
Though again, I have to say, The Second Shot is not particularly surprising or witty there. Mind you, it's a good story and if you have never read Berkeley before, it will have some surprises, but compared to The Poisoned Chocolates Case and Jumping Jenny, The Second Shot feels a bit underwhelming.
The Second Shot is not Roger Sheringham's best, nor that of Anthony Berkeley, but it is an okay effort. But I still have a lot of Roger Sheringham stories to go through, so I hope that this was just a slight dip in an otherwise highly amusing series.