Friday, March 28, 2014

Vintage Mystery #3

I read this book for the Vintage Mystery Bingo Reading Challenge 2014. The challenge is to read 6 or more Vintage Mysteries. All novels must have been originally written before 1960 and be from the mystery category.

I read this for L-3: Read a Book with a Spooky title

Death Comes to Perigord – John Ferguson, 1931

Young Dr. Dunn arrives on the sunlit Channel Island of Guernsey to substitute for a doctor in need of a spot of rest. The doctor is taken with scenery, which reminds him of the Near East:

Why look, for instance, at this very road, so long and narrow, stretching between those high blank walls, with invisible houses and hidden people behind them, I suppose.  And look at those tall palm trees which seem to be peering over the walls as if stretching their necks, watching for something to happen in this deserted alley.  Look at those shadows too, sharply cut as if by a knife in this brilliant white, un-English sunlight; and look at the colour, is that not Eastern?

Later he witnesses in the village square an old peasant woman railing against her rich neighbor de Quettville for stealing her garden statue. When the doc makes a house-call in aid of de Quettville, he finds him a cantankerous impossible patient but not necessarily mentally ill. Miser and usurer de Quettville mysteriously disappears. Dunn and two city officials and work on the case, in which psychiatric forensics plays a part:

The workings of a disordered mind are hard to follow, but it is an error to suppose an insane person cannot conceive, and adhere to a purpose.  There is method in madness; and with homicidal lunatics the doctor frequently becomes an object of intense hatred, the first enemy who must be removed before the original murderous intention can be achieved.

Dunn is driven to ask his asked his friend McNab, a private investigator, to clear up the mystery. The reveal, though predictable, satisfies.

As the passages above indicate, the suggestive setting, smart content, and elegant prose style result in a satisfying mystery from the Golden Age. Unfortunately for the author, many writers were trying their hand at the genre and this book was overlooked by critics and readers and so sunk out of sight until Dover Publications re-released it in the 1980s.

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