A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Bill Pronzini:

ANTHONY WYNNE – The Case of the Gold Coins. J. B. Lippincott, US, hardcover, 1934. Reprint: A. L. Burt, hardcover, no date. UK edition: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1933.

   Anthony Wynne (Robert McNair Wilson) was one of the lesser Golden Age writers — the creator of Dr. Eustace Hailey, a Harley Street specialist in mental disease who once offered the following opinion: “The really interesting crimes are those … in which the method employed, as well as the motive, constitutes a puzzle.”

   Method is indeed the most interesting element in Wynne’s mysteries: No less than sixteen of his twenty-eight novels feature an “impossible crime” of one type or another (most often the use of an “invisible agency” to murder someone in closed or guarded surroundings). Some of his “impossibles” are quite ingenious — The Case of the Gold Coins, for instance.

   In this case Hailey’s assistance is solicited by Captain Jack Ainger of the CID to investigate the strange death of Lord Wallace in a remote section of Northumberland. Wallace’s body was found in the middle of a wide expanse of beach near his home, badly battered and bruised, with a knife driven into his back.

   The location of the wound and bloodstains found under the corpse prove that he died on the spot. Yet there are no footprints in the sand for many yards in any direction and no way either the murderer or the sea could have erased any. A thrown knife is out; that still wouldn’t explain the absence of footprints.

   Also out are the possibilities of the body having been dropped from an airplane or hurled by a catapult or by bodily force.

   Dr. Hailey sets about questioning the suspects: Lady Wallace, the sister-in-law of the murdered man; Ruth Wallace, the lord’s niece; Colonel Bolton, a neighbor and old enemy of Wallace’s; the colonel’s daughter, Pamela; Wallace’s solicitor, Giles; and one of the local squires, Peter Ingram, who was engaged to Ruth but is now in love with Pamela.

   Don’t be misled, though: This is no actionless house-party drama; there is a good deal of skulking around in the night, two more murders, a couple of close shaves for Dr. Hailey (one of which involves sailboats and an unexpected predawn swim), eerie doings on a little offshore island, more intrigue centered on an old flour mill near the Wallace estate, and a hidden treasure of gold sovereigns.

   All the elements are here for a dandy novel. Unfortunately, Wynne’s handling of them results in “rather heavy melodrama,” as Howard Haycraft termed his work. Wynne wrote well, but in a solemn, reserved, curiously detached manner, as if he were unable to involve himself in his narrative.

   And Hailey is something of a colorless and plodding sleuth, whose only distinct character traits are taking snuff and “drawing his hand across his brow,” both of which he does constantly.

   Still, the explanation of how Lord Wallace was murdered is worthy of John Dickson Carr — although one facet of it is a little hard to swallow — and alone makes the novel worth reading.

   The same is true of such other Hailey investigations as The Green Knife (1932), in which there are three locked-room murders by stabbing; The Toll House Mystery (1935), in which a murdered man is found shut up alone in a closed car surrounded by untrodden snow; and Emergency Exit (1941), about a stabbing in an air-raid shelter surrounded by unmarked snow.

   Also interesting is the lone Dr. Hailey short-story collection, Sinners Go Secretly (1927), which contains two “impossibles.” If you enjoy this type of mystery, don’t pass these up. Despite their flaws, Wynne’s puzzles will keep you guessing and absorbed throughout.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.