Thu 15 Mar 2007
WILLIAM MAGNAY – The Hunt Ball Mystery.
Ward Lock, UK, hc, 1918. Brentanoís, US, hc, 1918. Other later printings exist, including Aldine Mystery Novels #22, UK, 1927. Etext at the Gutenberg Project.
Give me a novel opening with a fellow arriving for a social gathering at a country house, and Iím as happy as the proverbial clam.
The Hunt Ball Mystery begins in just this fashion, and right away we are in crisis mode. Hugh Gifford discovers he is without evening clothes due to a mistake made by the guard unloading luggage. Gifford and his friend Harry Kelson are going to a Hunt Ball to be held that evening at Wynford Place.
The station master arranges for Giffordís traps to be transferred to a down train at the next stop, although Gifford wonít get them until about ten. However, this still leaves time for him to attend the ball.
The two men share a fly to the Golden Lion Hotel with a stranger who mentions he is also staying there and will be going to the ball. Gifford sniffily decides the man is not of their class, a conclusion based largely on the otherís looks and manner. The man is Clement Henshaw, brother of Gervase, whom Gifford knows by repute as a fellow legal eagle.
Gifford insists Kelson goes on to the ball ahead of him, and Kelson and Henshaw depart. While waiting for his missing luggage, Gifford decides to stroll over to Wynford Place to take a look at its exterior. He returns two hours later, obviously having had a shock. Even so, he dons his now retrieved evening clothes and tootles off to the jamboree, where he makes the acquaintance of Dick Morriston, owner of Wynford Place, and Dickís sister Edith.
Not long before four next morning the hotel landlord pops in to ask if the Hunt Ball is over as Henshaw has not returned. After encouraging the landlord to lock the doors against his missing guest, Kelson pours himself a drink and suddenly notices blood on his shirt cuff.
Then the missing Henshaw is found dead in a locked room with the key on the inside and an 80 feet drop from its window. The general consensus is Henshaw committed suicide. Gervase Henshaw, the dead manís brother, disagrees, and so does the doctor who gives evidence at the inquest.
At this point the mystery gallops off in full cry after the fox of whodunnit, how, and why. Revelations follow concerning what upset Gifford on his nocturnal walkabout, whence came the blood on Kelsonís cuff, the solution to the locked room matter, and so on.
My verdict: I have long been a fan of the Country House Mystery and so was disposed to like The Hunt Ball. Alas, this particular visit to a rural estate was not too successful. The locked room solution is pedestrian and most readers will guess it. I found the characters unsympathetic and the police presented as inept, not least in overlooking a couple of clues — including one of a particularly glaring nature. Then too the introduction of an important witness was without previous hints of this personís existence.
It may be this novel was intended as a spoof of the Country House Mystery, but all in all, I found The Hunt Ball Mystery something of a disappointment.
From Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, a chronological listing of Sir William Magnay’s other mystery fiction:
MAGNAY, [Sir] WILLIAM, 2nd baronet (1855-1917)
* The Heiress of the Season (n.) Smith, Elder 1899. Appleton, US, 1899.
* The Pride of Life (n.) Smith, Elder 1899.
* The Man-Trap (n.) Smith, Elder 1900.
* The Red Chancellor (n.) Ward 1901. Brentanoís, US, 1901.
* The Man of the Hour (n.) Ward 1902.
* Count Zarka (n.) Ward 1903.
* -Fauconberg (n.) Ward 1905.
* -A Prince of Lovers (n.) Ward 1905.
* The Dukeís Dilemma (n.) Long 1906.
* The Master Spirit (n.) Ward 1906. Little, US, 1906.
* -The Amazing Duke (n.) Unwin 1907.
* The Mystery of the Unicorn (n.) Ward 1907. Street & Smith, US, 1910.
* The Pitfall (n.) Ward 1908.
* The Red Stain (n.) Ward 1908.
* A Poached Peerage (n.) Ward 1909.
* The Powers of Mischief (n.) Ward 1909.
* The Long Hand (n.) Paul 1912.
* Paul Burdon (n.) Paul 1912.
* Rogues in Arcady (n.) Ward 1912.
* The Fruit of Indiscretion (n.) Paul 1913.
* The Players (n.) Hodder 1913.
* The Price of Delusion (n.) Paul 1914.
* The Black Lake (n.) Paul 1915.
* The Cloak of Darkness (n.) Ward 1915.
* The Hunt Ball Mystery (n.) Ward 1918.
* The Flamards Mystery (n.) Pemberton 1942.
* The Eleventh Hour (n.) Odhams n.d.