Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Anthony Wynne’s “Murder of a Lady”

Robert McNair Wilson (1882-1963) was an English physician and author who wrote some 28 mystery novels under the name of Anthony Wynne. He wrote during the Golden Age of mystery and detective fiction, roughly the period between the two world wars. His primary protagonist in these novels was Dr. Eustace Hailey. And what Hailey particularly specialized in was the locked room mystery.

Wynne’s novels have long been out of print, although a few can be found in used bookstores and online used book services (a few are listed on Amazon). The British Library Crime Classics series has, however, resurrected Dr. Hailey in Murder of a Lady: A Scottish Mystery. The series is edited by British mystery writer Martin Edwards, and he provides a succinct introduction to both Wynne and the story. The book was originally published in 1931.

Dr. Hailey, who lives in London and works on Harley Street, is visiting a fellow physician in the Scottish Highlands. The regional procurator fiscal arrives late one evening to announce that a marauder has been committed at nearly Duchlan Castle, and he needs the two doctors’ assistance. (The author makes good use of his medical knowledge and expertise to develop the story.)

Anthony Wynne
The victim is Mary Gregor, the elder sister of Duchlan Gregor, lord of the castle. Her head has been rather viciously bashed in, as if struck by an ax from behind. But there is little blood in her bedroom; and more significantly, her door was locked from the inside and the windows overlooking the local loch were bolted. She has been clearly murdered, but no one is able to understand how the killer entered or left the room. One other odd clue surfaces – a herring fish scale is found in the wound. (The book was first published in the U.K. under the title of The Silver Scale Mystery.)

The police investigator assigned to the case is a young man full of enthusiasm and action, but he accomplishes little except to offend the family, the servants, the doctors, the villagers, and anyone else living in the area. He asks for Hailey’s help. But soon there is a second murder, with the victim killed the same way as Mary Gregor, and Hailey understands what the police do not – this murder has its roots in the distant past, and in the character of the original victim.

Murder of a Lady is a classic locked room mystery, written by one of the masters of locked room mysteries.

Photograph: A scene in the Scottish Highlands by Steve Bryant via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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