Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Affair of the Mutilated Mink, by James Anderson

The Affair of the Mutilated Mink
by James Anderson

Never a week goes by without a nobleman being murdered in his library...or a don in his study, or an heiress in her bath.

A number of the mystery bloggers I follow focus on more traditional styles of mystery fiction. Not surprisingly, given their interests, they tend to zero in on certain authors who are under-appreciated nowadays. Some of the authors I've discovered thanks to their tireless cheerleading are William De Andrea, with his Matt Cobb mystery series; the many and varied historical mysteries of Paul Doherty; Paul Halter, the French author who apparently grabbed the torch once held by locked room master John Dickson Carr; and Herbert Resnicow.

To this august group of under-appreciated authors, I'd propose adding James Anderson. Though he apparently wrote quite a few works before his death in 2007, for my money the books that deserve to be remembered are his trio of country house mysteries. Which consist of The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy (1975), The Affair of the Mutilated Mink (1981) and The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks (2003).

If you figured that the country house mystery had its heyday sometime in the 1930s, well, you may actually be right. If you figured that no one's written a decent one since then you have to look no further than Anderson's books for proof to the contrary. Set in the 1930s, the events of the books play out at the estate of George Henry Aylwin Saunders, the twelfth Earl of Burford. Who's perhaps a bit dotty, but all in all is not a bad chap, as these rich, titled fellows who populate murder mysteries are concerned. The other main players in the immediate family and household are the Earl's formidable wife, his daughter Geraldine, or Gerry, and the exceedingly proper butler known as Merryweather.

Since these are country house mysteries, there are, of course, a rotating cast of visitors, victims, suspects and law enforcement. In this volume there are a high proportion of movie industry people, including a successful producer scouting the house as a possible location for a shoot and one of his biggest stars, who's come along to butter up the Burfords.

Before long someone shuffles from this mortal coil - with a little assistance, of course. Which is about all I have to say about the plot. If you've ever read one of Anderson's books you'll know why. They are brimming over with a ridiculous number of clues and red herrings and I hope it's not too much of a spoiler to say that in one of Anderson's novels almost nothing is what it seems.

Like Inspector Wilkins, for instance, who appears to be about the dimmest bulb in the lamp store. But is he really? Hmmm. This time around he has some assistance, after a fashion, from Scotland Yard, though things don't play out in quite the way you might expect.

You could call Anderson's books pastiches or knockoffs or who knows what else, but I'd venture to say that tribute is probably the best term to describe what he's done to the country house mystery sub-genre.

Highly recommended.

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