Thursday, January 12, 2017

“The Bungalow Mystery” by Annie Haynes

Annie Haynes (1865-1929) was one of the Golden Age of Mystery writers who flourished in the 1920s. Her publishing firm was The Bodley Head, which had another well-known woman mystery writer in its lists – Agatha Christie. Both Haynes and Christie were successful writers, but Christie went on to another publisher and Haynes died in 1929. Her last book was published posthumously (and finished with the help of another writer), but then awareness of her books, and the books themselves, disappeared from public sight.

Crime fiction historian Curtis Evans provides welcome biographical and writing background about Haynes and her mysteries as the introduction to The Bungalow Mystery, now republished for the first time in more than 80 years. All of her stories are now available again.

One can see the appeal.

Dr. Roger Lavington is a fairly new doctor in a small English village, and he’s still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. One night he is urgently called to a neighbor’s bungalow – the housekeeper has discovered her master dead. As he examines the body, he sees someone hiding behind a curtain. It’s a young woman, for some inexplicable reason, the doctor helps her escape. He’s convinced she couldn’t have killed the dead man – there’s no gun in the room.

Two years later, Lavington is serving as a private physician to an old schoolmate, who lost his legs in a train accident. The accident ended the man’s engagement, although his former fiancée still loves him. It takes some time, but Lavington discovers that the fiancée is the woman he helped escape from the murder in the bungalow. And then the police, assisted by private detectives, begin to move in.

The Bungalow Mystery is a fun story to read, but it seems a bit more theatrical than other novels of the Golden Age. There’s an element of melodrama, with mistaken identities, bumbling detectives, a bit of romance, and a bit of narrative explanation advancement at the hands of a judge. Still, when the book was first published in 1923, it was wildly popular and helped make Haynes reputation as a mystery writer.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is what happened to Haynes after her death. Her 12 mysteries (published between 1923 and 1930) all did well with the mystery-reading public. And then – nothing. Her reputation and her books disappeared from view.

Kudos to Dean Street Press for bringing back one of the writers who was a stalwart of the Golden Age.

Photograph: the architectural style known as “English bungalow.”

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