Thu 14 Apr 2011
JAMES ANDERSON – The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy. McKay Washburn, hardcover, 1975. Avon, paperback, 1978. Poisoned Pen Press, trade paperback, June 2006.
Fans of the typical English house party mysteries of the 1930s, rejoice — the Golden Age is back! James Anderson’s book has it all, including a list of characters and a plan of the house and, as the worried Inspector Wilins puts it: “Foreign envoys. International jewel thieves. American millionaires. European aristocracy.”
Though he keeps saying he is not sanguine, Inspector Wilkins manages to unravel the many-stranded plot and sort out a head-spinning series of complications, with the help of a (semi-)amateur assistant.
Guests at the Earl of Burford’s stately home include his diplomat brother Richard and some foreign envoys trying to work out an agreement; an American oil millionaire interested in the Earl’s fabulous gun collection and his wife; a strangely enigmatic and beautiful Baroness; society bore Algy Fotheringay, who gets his just desserts; an early-Christie type ingenue, down on her luck; and possibly the Wraith, a society jewel thief.
As might be expected, Anderson has a lot of fun with this, though he does it affectionately without playing for laughs. There are ultimately two murders, which naturally take place during a violent thunderstorm when no one stays in his room.
Egg Cosy has all the joys, and some of the weaknesses, of the classic mysteries of the Golden Age. The latter include a few poorly delineated characters and the convention of having a culprit launch into a long and detailed confession upon being accused, rather than clamming up and sending for a lawyer.
On the plus side are the situation itself, the marvelously convoluted plot and its multi-part solution, somewhat reminiscent of early Queen. There is even a secret passage!
If the the events of the night in question and the whereabouts of all the people and guns are just about impossible to keep straight, that’s all part of the game. There are indications of a possible sequel at the end — I hope there is one, as it’s a fun book, well worth reading.
The Inspector Wilkins series —
1. The Affair of the Blood Stained Egg Cosy (1975)
2. The Affair of the Mutilated Mink Coat (1981)
3. The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks (2003)