Tue 17 Jun 2008
EDGAR WALLACE – The Daffodil Mystery. Ward Lock & Co., UK, hardcover, 1920. U.S. title: The Daffodil Murder. Small Maynard & Co., 1921. Many reprints, both hardcover and paperback. Film: Omnia-Rialto, 1962, as The Devil’s Daffodil (Das Geheimnis der Gleben Narzissen) (scw: Basil Dawson, Donald Taylor; dir: Akos Rathony).
Odette Rider loses her cashier job after she indignantly rejects a suggestion from Thornton Lyne, owner of the large store where she works, that they cohabit without benefit of clergy.
As a result Lyne, a thoroughly mean-spirited man, plots to frame her for embezzlement of company funds even though he knows the real culprit is a departmental manager, Mr Milburgh.
Lyne’s cousin Jack Tarling, late of the Shanghai Detective Service, has just opened an investigative agency in London’s Bond Street and visits Lyne to discuss the Milburgh matter. When Tarling learns Lyne wants to pin Milburgh’s defalcations on Miss Rider – Milburgh of course being more than happy to go along with the idea – he refuses to have anything to do with it.
As part of his general posing as a charitable fellow, Lyne has become acquainted with Sam Stay, burglar and jail bird, who is due to be released from prison next day. As usual, Lyne meets him, gives him breakfast and twenty pounds, and tells such outrageous lies about Miss Rider that he succeeds in getting Stay interested in helping his benefactor “get even” with her.
The day after Tarling warns Miss Rider of the possibility of Lyne taking revenge Lyne is found murdered, his body laid out in Hyde Park with a pad formed from one of Miss Rider’s nightgowns and some of her hankies used in an attempt to staunch his gunshot wound – and a bunch of daffodils laid upon his chest.
He is wearing slippers, and a small piece of red paper with Chinese characters on it is in his waistcoat pocket, although that garment, his coat, and his boots are in his car a hundred yards away from his body. Tarling interprets the writing as saying Lyne brought trouble upon himself.
Tarling goes to visit Miss Rider at her mother’s house in Hertford. Things look bad for her, not only because of the nighty and hankies but also because a shot was heard in her flat the night before. But Miss Rider has disappeared. A warrant is issued for her arrest and Tarling, who has fallen for her, embarks on a quest to find her, establish her innocence, and discover who was responsible for the murder of the odious Lyne – and the motive behind the crime.
My verdict: Readers’ notions of likely suspects are cleverly led along until a plot twist turns them on their heads, while the machinations of Mr Milburgh will make some almost admire his cleverness – until they learn the nasty depths of his nature. The murderer is the person most readers will least suspect. And will any of them be able to look a daffodil in the trumpet again without recalling their mental picture of the corpse in Hyde Park?