John Leslie is a young tenant farmer on an estate. He’s engaged to marry a young woman, Lady Cynthia Bell, who’s a few social stations above him. And they argue about it, because her mother is opposed to a marriage with a man “of no wealth” and John feeling at a decided disadvantage.
Early one evening, during several days of almost gale-like conditions, they meet in the fields, argue again, and John goes stomping off for hours. When he returns to his farmstead, he finds the door open and banging in the wind. He also finds a woman he’s never seen before, seated at a desk as if in the process of writing. And she’s dead, shot in the head.
He calls the police, and the police are determined to collar him for the murder. Cynthia callas upon a good older friend, Allen Fayre, who persuades one of the top criminal law attorney in Britain to take on the case. But nothing goes as expected. And Fayre finds himself playing amateur detective, scrounging for what few clues are available.
The Draycott Murder Mystery by Molly Thynne (1881-1950) was published in 1928, and was the first of six mysteries Thynne published between 1928 and 1933 (and now being republished by Dean Street Press). And then she stopped writing.
|Molly Thynne as a young girl|
Thynne was unusual for a mystery writer. Of aristocratic lineage, she had an abundance of marquesses and dukes in her family background. A cousin was a bridesmaid in the wedding of the Duke of York (later King George VI). She also had some artistic genes in her pedigree – James MacNeil Whistler was a great uncle, and her family’s circles included Rudyard Kipling and Henry James.
By 1930, Thynne was one of the best known women mystery writers in the United Kingdom, but public awareness quickly died after she wrote her final story in 1933.
Published in the U.K. under the title The Red Dwarf (the name of a popular writing pen), The Draycott Murder Mystery is a minor masterpiece of detective procedure and process. The solutions to its several mysteries (yes, there are more than only the murder) lie buried in the past, in tangled and forgotten relationships, romances, and blackmail. It’s still a good story.
Top photograph by Karen Arnold via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.