Wed 29 Sep 2010
ANTHONY WYNNE – Emergency Exit. Hutchinson, UK, hardcover, 1941. Julian Messner, US, hardcover, 1944.
The popularity in the United States of Anthony Wynne seems to have waned with the onset of World War Two. Wynne’s longtime American publisher, Lippincott, seems to have dropped the author after it published his Doornails Never Die (1939). Of Wynne’s next three books, published between 1940 and 1942, I’m aware of only one that appeared in the United States: Emergency Exit (1941), which was belatedly published in the U. S. in 1944 by Julian Messner.
I’m happy Messner published Exit, because it’s a fine example of a locked room mystery — in this case murder in a private, sealed bomb shelter, surrounded by snow. How’s that for a miracle problem?
As is very often the case in Wynne’s mystery novels, the murder his Great Detective Dr. Hailey is called on to investigate is that of a millionaire financier; and the murder has taken place at the man’s opulent country estate. Some good descriptive writing sets the stage, but we soon get down to the problem, which is initially laid out at an inquest.
Naturally the murder victim proves to have been rather an unlovable fellow, and we are presented with half-a-dozen suspects who might well have done the old man in — but how?!
Exit is not as good a detective novel, in my opinion, as Murder of a Lady, reviewed here. The setting and characters are less original and the likely identity of the key culprit should not tax readers overmuch.
Also, movement flags a bit in the central portion of the novel (which consists too much of Hailey wondering about the country house and its grounds).
Still, Emergency Exit should leave admirers of Golden Age mystery pleased. The why? question turns out to be quite interesting and the locked room problem (how?) cleverly turned out indeed (though a map would have been nice).
As far as the characters go, the most interesting aspect of the novel is the relationship between the financier’s daughter and the man she loves, a heroic fighter pilot who received a blow on the head and is suspected of the murder by the police, as he may not be “quite right” anymore. Readers may find the daughter rather unbearably priggish, but the fighter pilot is an interesting character.
Wynne also allows himself some interesting asides on the war and England’s resolve to fight it. And the title proves itself quite an apt one. A good tale.