Anthony Berkeley – Death in the House (1939)

When Lord Wellacombe, Secretary of State for India, collapses in the House
of Commons while he is introducing a Bill giving the Government draconian
powers to suppress Indian independence agitators, everyone believes it is a
stroke until tests reveal that he has been poisoned. The Cabinet is in a dilemma as they know that notes have been received from someone calling himself ‘The Brown Hand’, warning that anyone who tries to introduce the Bill will die. The threat is proved to be no empty one when the next Minister to attempt the feat dies in a nearly identical manner to
Wellacombe. While most of the Cabinet now want to postpone the Bill, the
Prime Minister , Franklin, is determined to press on and decides that he
will introduce the Bill himself. It is up to our hero and protagonist, Lord
Arthur Linton, the Under-secretary for India, to solve the mystery and save
the Prime Minister’s life.

If one wanted to find a book which would be almost guaranteed to give a
newcomer an aversion to Golden Age mysteries it might be hard to find a
better candidate than Death in The House. The politics manage to be both
crudely reactionary and cartoon-like, the characters are cardboard
stereotypes, the romance stiflingly dull, the solution in terms of ‘how’ is
an absurd technical mechanism and in terms of ‘who’ baffling only in the
sense that it is the blindingly obvious suspect who turns out to have ‘done
it’. ‘Bad’ does not begin to describe this book.

(June 2008)

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