William F. Deeck

A. A. THOMSON & FALKLAND L. CARY – Murder at the Ministry. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, 1947. Published earlier as a play (French, 1942). No US edition.

   Clarendon House had once been a mental home, and to some it still appears that way because it now is inhabited by civil servants and scientists working on a top-secret project. The project’s leader, Sir James Reid, receives an anonymous note accusing his wife and fellow scientist Peter Faber of hanky-panky. He confronts the two and shortly thereafter is shot dead.

   There are several suspects besides Sir James’s wife and Faber. There is Captain Knowles-Parker, who is brighter than he appears to be, Lydia Grant, Sir James’s secretary, and Mr. Noote, the nearly perfect bureaucrat.

   Since Faber has the best, if not the only, motive, attention is focused on him. But Sir James’s doctor provides Faber with an alibi.

   Inspector Richardson of Scotland Yard is baffled. Captain Knowles-Parker, who helps in the investigation, is equally bewildered. Only through some hints that Mrs. McIntyre, one of Clarendon House’s charwomen, gives out when she has a mind to, is the villain brought to justice. How anyone understands her Scots accent, however, is beyond me. One can read what she has to say two or three times and extract the meaning, but hearing it once and grasping what she has said strikes me as bordering on the miraculous.

   Like Mrs. McIntyre, I spotted the murderer, although for slightly different reasons. I couldn’t figure out the motive, though, and don’t accept it now that I know it.

   Mrs. McIntyre is a forerunner to H.R.F. Keating’s Mrs. Craggs, though I think she drinks a bit more and certainly more steadily . She is well worth discovering.

— Reprinted from CADS 13, February 1990. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Bibliographic Notes:   The two authors collaborated on one other mystery novel, that being But Once a Year (Jenkins, 1951). Murder at the Ministry seems to have been Mrs. McIntyre’s only outing. Falkland Cary’s solo work in terms of crime fiction otherwise consisted only of plays. A. A. Thomson’s contributions to the field include no other novels, but he does have one published play to his credit as well as several short story collections, some of which are criminous.