Thursday, May 14, 2015

Loose Truth

"Oh, you mustn't ask me that yet. I shall have to chew it over a lot more before I can make a connected and logical story of it. Besides, the best detectives always hold up their brilliant solutions for the most effective moment (surely you know that)."
"Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery"

I might not know much about graphic design, but I'm pretty sure that a white font on a light-blue background for a cover isn't the best of ideas.

Mystery writer, amateur detective and Daily Courier correspondent Roger Sheringham and his cousin Anthony change their holiday plans when Roger is sent by his newspaper to Ludmouth Bay, Hampshire, to report on the investigation of Inspector Moresby. Moresby is investigating the death of Elise Vane, who was found beneath the cliffs in a less-than-living state. While most people think it was a mere suicide, Moresby's presence alone shows that there might be more behind the death of Mrs. Vane, but Moresby's very careful with what he says and tells Roger and Anthony nothing newsworthy, so the two have to investigate the mystery themselves. They soon find out that the victim (?) was not a very nice woman and there were not just a few persons who had reason to bump her off. Off the cliff. And so Roger and Anthony work together to solve the crime and outsmart Moresby in Anthony Berkeley's Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (1927).

Okay, was I the only one who read the title and expected a mystery revolving around a weather vane?

Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery is the third novel in the Roger Sheringham series, of which I have reviewed the later The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) and Jumping Jenny (1933). Those two novels were fantastic novels that explored the limits of the Great Detective as the bringer of truth, revealer of all, with multiple solutions and other shenanigans confusing both reader and Roger. Depending on your point of view, you could even consider those books anti-mystery novels, as they undermine the idea of that a detective novel could bring the truth. Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery is in comparison quite tame, but is definitely written in the same spirit as The Poisoned Chocolate Case and  Jumping Jenny.

Unlike one false solution after a false solution after another set-up of the latter two books, Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery's plot is fairly straighforward, with Roger and Anthony arriving in Ludmouth's Bay and slowly uncovering more about Elise Vane's death, occasionally bouncing off theories with each other and Inspector Moresby. The latter is a rather plain policeman, who is simply doing his work in the best way he knows and his plainness works well opposite Roger Sheringham's "great detective. Those who have read more books in the series, can probably guess how this rivalry will end, but still, it's fun.

And while the plot does have its share of twists and turns as it nears the last page, including some false solutions, it is not nearly as anti-mystery-esque as other books and I think this book leaves a less cynical aftertaste (that is, it's  Roger Sheringham, so of course it's still quite cynical, just not so over-the-top as later books). Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery does not try to undermine its own premise too hard and is thus easier to enjoy than the later novels.

I do like that once again, the core mystery (the death of Elise Vane) is actually a very simple one. Trial and Error and The Poisoned Chocolates Case had at the core fairly simple deaths as the starting point, which only became more and more complex as new evidence showed up which allowed for new theories to be developed. Berkeley's critique of the infinite possibilities of evidence and theories feels more acceptable as the case itself becomes more and more simple: even the most featureless situation can be blown up to the most incredible story just by imagination deductions.

Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery is an enjoyable detective novel that might not be as memorable and ambitious as later books in the series, but certainly no less fun. Considering it's less crazy, it might even be a better entry point in the series.


  1. Your final summation of the book would be an apt description of Berkeley's first mystery novel, The Layton Court Mystery, which was very reminiscent of Milne's The Red House Mystery. A very atypical piece of work compared to later books such as the one you just reviewed.

    If you haven't read Panic Party, you haven't seen Berkeley at the zenith of his cynicism yet.

    1. I'm still waiting for the day this book will be published in English and I can see everyone's reaction. I don't read that much anti-mystery, but this is still the one I enjoyed best as something that is so obviously anti-mystery, yet so good as normal locked room murder mystery.

  2. do you read the manga Master Keaton?

    1. Occasionally. I have a complete set, but I'm going through at a snail's pace.