William F. Deeck

PHILIP MacDONALD – Mystery at Friar’s Pardon. Doubleday Crime Club, US, hardcover, 1932. Collins Crime Club, UK, hc, 1931, as by Martin Porlock.

PHILIP MacDONALD Mystery at Friar's Pardon

   Friar’s Pardon, built in the reign of King James the Second, had had five mysterious deaths of the owners of the house. In the last one, a doctor swore that the owner had died of drowning, though he was upstairs and there was no water in or near the room, and no evidence of water on his clothes or person.

   Despite these overtones of the supernatural, Mrs. Enid Lester-Greene, best-selling author of, among other titles, Sir Galahad Comes Home, Oasis Love, and Paradise for Two, buys the house and plans to occupy the room where the mysterious deaths took place as her study.

   She does this in the face of warnings by friends and family and despite reports of a sometimes mischievous and sometimes nasty poltergeist active in the house.

   All this build-up would be rather disappointing if nothing happened to Mrs. Lester-Greene, so something does. In a locked room about four minutes after having made a phone call crying for help Mrs. Lester-Greene is found dead, drowned, according to the medical examiner, though there is no water in the room.

   The solution to the locked-room aspect will probably be familiar to those who read widely in that subgenre, and the murderer may be a little too evident to the reader, but not to the police, who lean toward the supernatural explanation.

   An interesting amateur detective — the recently hired estate steward who never has a chance to do any of the work for which he is employed — the unusual murder method, a fair amount of the occult, and some amusing minor characters make this a novel well worth finding.

   And since the supernatural, or what seems the supernatural, plays a significant role in the crime, the seance to ask the murdered woman who and how is a fitting climax.

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.