If you’re looking to snuggle up with a good book now that the nights are getting longer and the weather colder, then the new Harper Collins edition of Anthony Berkley’s classic crime story The Wintringham Mystery could be the perfect winter read for you.
This printed edition of the complete story, which was initially serialised in the popular newspaper the Daily Mirror, is part of the the Collins Crime Club, a selection of classic crime stories. Many of these books are by members of the Detection Club, a group of 1930s Golden Age detective fiction writers, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, John Rhode, Jessie Rickard and many more.
In this edition, crime fiction expert Tony Medawar, the editor of the incredible Bodies From The Library, explains the popularity of the puzzle and how prizes were offered to anyone who guessed the explanation. Even Agatha Christie entered the competition, but she couldn’t even solve the mystery.
In the end, no one even came close to solving the puzzle, but the Daily Mirror awarded a share of the prize money to a selection of participants, including Christie, who gave the best guesses. The introduction allows readers to learn more about the story and the author.
Then, we dive right into the novel, which is so seamless that it doesn’t read like a serialised story at all. The Wintringham Mystery introduces readers to the feckless Stephen Munro, esquire, and his former army batman turned manservant Bridger. Stephen is lovesick over his former girlfriend, Pauline Mainwaring, and he’s also seriously running out of funds. In desperation, he pays Bridger his final month’s wages and sets out for his new job, as a footman at an illustrious country house he once might have been a guest at.
The ever-efficient Bridger, who’s very much the Bunter to Stephen’s Lord Peter Wimsey, has already predicted this unusual career path that his boss and friend is taking, and has gotten himself a job as a gardener at the same house to be close to him. Among the guests at Wintringham Hall, the sprawling estate of the curmudgeonly Lady Susan Carey, is Stephen’s former lady love Pauline and her new fiancé, a once prominent businessman who, as Stephen learns from his chauffeur, is in financial difficulties. Many of the other guests are former friends of Stephen’s, who struggle to adapt to his new status as a servant.
They invite him to join in on a seance, which they believe will allow them to converse with the spirit world. Their host sits in disdainful silence and many of the guests ignore them or try to get Freddie, Stephen’s former friend and nephew to their host, to stop his ridiculousness. However, Lady Susan’s live-in niece Millicent and her companion Cecily Rivers, agree to take part. Cecily was supposed to be elsewhere, but she mysteriously reappears to be part of the seance.
Despite learning lots of great gossip about the guests at the hall, Stephen very quickly gets on the wrong side of the butler, Martin, and is promptly sacked after the seance and invited by Lady Susan to stay on as her guest. Stephen works to uncover the truth behind the vanishing of Cecily and promptly discovers that many of the eclectic group of house guests had motives to plot to hide the girl or to do her harm. Convinced Cecily is in on the deception, Stephen teams up with Pauline and starts staking out the room in the hall where she was last seen, sneaking into secret passages and more.
After Cecily disappears, Lady Susan’s jewellery is stolen and a mysterious phone call is made claiming to be the missing girl, who’s apparently in limbo and needs another seance. Then, a member of the staff is killed under mysterious circumstances, leaving it up to Stephen and Pauline, with a little help from Bridger, to figure out what’s going on and restore order to the house party at the hall. Berkeley employs every trick in the book, from red herrings to false trails, to make the mystery tough to unravel.
At the same time, it’s still possible to follow the plot of The Wintringham Mystery. One of the biggest issues I and many other readers often face when reading crime fictions books that are designed to be puzzled out by the reader is that the story is, by necessity, too convoluted and complicated to be understood. The reader simply can’t solve the mystery because it doesn’t make any sense. However, in this book the story is clear and easy to follow, but still devilishly deceitful and tricky to unravel.
When the truth unfolds readers are left stunned and fascinated. The story features bold characters and many twists and turns to keep you on your toes, meaning you’ll struggle to put the book down- I know I did! It was amazing how often I’d tell myself I’d only read one more chapter, then find myself making the same promise 6 chapters down the line. The mystery draws you in then the compelling characters and witty dialogue, particularly between Stephen and Pauline, keeps you gripped.
Ultimately, I really love The Wintringham Mystery, and I think that this new version is a great gift for a classic Golden Age crime fiction lover. The cover art is stunning and the introduction is interesting and brings a new dimension to this intriguing story. So, if you know and love a crime fiction fan and you’re looking for a unique and inventive gift for them Christmas or a winter birthday, then this is a great book to consider. Or, if you want to get yourself a special little treat, then this is an amazing read that will help you to expand your knowledge of Golden Age crime novels, then I’d thoroughly recommend this cosy new edition of this intriguing mystery.