My Book Notes: The Wintringham Mystery: Cicely Disappears, 1927 by Anthony Berkeley

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Collins Crime Club, 2021. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 1184 KB. Print Length: 238 pages. ASIN: B08SLHM2Y2. eISBN: 9780008470111.

This story was originally serialized by the Daily Mirror in March-April 1926 as The Wintringham Mystery by A. B. Cox, with a first prize of £250 –equivalent to £15,000 today, offered to any reader who could correctly deduced how, why and by whose agency, the victim (Stella, later Cicely) disappeared. Nobody did – even Agatha Christie entered and couldn’t solve it. It was revised and published in book form by John Long Ltd in 1927 (with a few name changes) as Cicely Disappears by A. Monmouth Platts. In 2021, HarperCollins reissued this book as part of their Collins Crime Club series under the original title, but keeping the revised 1927 text with an insightful introduction by critic, editor and genre historian, Tony Medawar.

9780008470104Book Description: Stephen Munro, a demobbed army officer, reconciles himself to taking a job as a footman to make ends meet. Employed at Wintringham Hall, the delightful but decaying Sussex country residence of the elderly Lady Susan Carey, his first task entails welcoming her eccentric guests to a weekend house-party, at which her bombastic nephew – who recognises Stephen from his former life – decides that an after-dinner séance would be more entertaining than bridge. Then Cicely disappears! With Lady Susan reluctant to call the police about what is presumably a childish prank, Stephen and the plucky Pauline Mainwaring take it upon themselves to investigate. But then a suspicious death turns the game into an altogether more serious affair… This classic winter mystery incorporates all the trappings of the Golden Age – a rambling country house, a séance, a murder, a room locked on the inside, with servants, suspects and alibis, a romance – and an ingenious puzzle.

My Take: In simple terms, the plot revolves around the disappearance of a young woman, called Cicely Vernon, during an after-dinner séance at Wintringham Hall, Lady Susan Carey’s country house in Sussex. Or maybe it would be better to call it Witches’ Sabbath. The disappearance  takes place in front of the group of people gathered there to spend the weekend. In addition to Lady Susan herself, there are Millicent Carey, Lady Susan’s niece and heiress; her nephew Freddie Venables, son of Lady Susan’s only sister; an old friend of hers, a certain Colonel Uffculme; Miss Rivers, Lady Susan’s hired escort; Cicely Vernon, the daughter of an old friend of Lady Susan, of lineage as old as hers, but as poor as she herself is rich; Pauline Mainwaring and her fiancé Sir Julius Hammerstein, a well-known stockbroker and one of the richest men in London; Henry Kentisbeare, a useless young man who lives off the resources of his friends; John Starcross, a man who rose to fame a few month ago on his return from a long and perilous expedition through Central and South America, and now no self-respecting country house party is complete without him; Miss Baby Cullompton, a young woman with a childlike expression; Miss Annette Agnew a young distant cousin of Millicent and Lady Susan; and Stephen Munro, an old pal of Freddie Venables.

The Witches’ Sabbath is Freddy’s idea and he plays the role of ringmaster while Cicely volunteers to disappear. There’s a map attached at Pretty Sinister Book’s review, showing everyone’s position before the lights are put out. When the room is in darkness, a low, shuddering moan is heard, preceded by a loud rap. Suddenly, something seems to have gone wrong. There is a power failure, and the beams of the torches show the empty chair where Cicely was sitting. Cicely has vanished without a trace. Lady Susan considers that they have been the victims of a prank, pranks that Cicely is quite fond of, and she is reluctant to call the police. However, Stephen Munro, an impoverished gentleman who has had to give up his bid to marry Miss Pauline Mainwaring, join forces with his old flame on their quest to find out what has happened.

The Wintringham Mystery is a light and entertaining read. The plot, for today’s taste, may be somewhat weak or childish if you like, though I found it fairly enjoyable and amusing. It was nice to spend some time with this book. It contains most of  the ingredients one expects on a classic Golden Age detective story, and it’s been a good thing to have recovered an almost forgotten book by Anthony Berkeley. A nice puzzle with an unexpected denouement.

The Wintringham Mystery has been reviewed, among others, by Martin Edwards at ’Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Kate Jackson at Cross-examining Crime, Leah at Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews, TomCat at Beneath the Stains of Time, J F Norris at Pretty Sinister Books, and Jim Noy at The Invisible Event.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets, LLC. John Long, Ltd. (UK), 1927)

About the Author: Anthony Berkeley, whose real name was Anthony Berkeley Cox, was a popular British satirical journalist, crime and mystery writer, and literary critic who wrote under the pseudonyms Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley, and A. Monmouth Platts. Born in Watford, Hertfordshire on 5 July 1893, he was the son of Alfred Edward Cox, a doctor who invented a kind of X-ray machine that allowed shrapnel to be detected in wounded patients. Sybil (née Iles), his mother, claimed descent from the 17th-century Earl of Monmouth and a smuggler named Francis Iles. The family inheritance included two estates in Watford: Monmouth House and The Platts. Cox was educated at Sherborne School and University College, Oxford. With the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted, attained the rank of lieutenant in the 7th Northumberland Regiment, was gassed in France, and was invalided out of the army. His health was seriously affected for the rest of his life. Details about his professional life in the years immediately after the war are somewhat sketchy. As time went by he devoted himself more and more to writing. Cox married twice, the first with Margaret Farrar when he was on leave in London in December 1917. They divorced in 1931 and Margaret Cox remarried. Apparently their breakup was amicable. The second in 1932 with Helen Peters (née MacGregor), ex-wife of his literary agent, A. D. Peters. No children were born from either of the Cox unions, although Helen brought her two children by Peters with her. His second marriage broke up in the late 1940s, and their parting again appears to have been reasonably amicable. Cox’s professional writing career began around 1922, writing satirical stories for Punch and other popular publications. His first detective novel, The Layton Court Mystery, was published anonymously in 1925. Between 1925 and 1939, he published 14 crime novels under the pseudonym Anthony Berkeley, of which 10 featured the amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham. In the fifth The Poisoned Chocolates Case, a second amateur detective, Ambrose Chitterwick, is also involved, who will feature in two more of his novels. He also published under his real name, A. B. Cox, Mr Priestley’s Problem and The Wintringham Mystery. The latter was written to be serialized in the Daily Mirror. A revised version appeared as Cicely Disappears in 1927, under the pseudonym of A. Monmouth Platts. It is widely accepted that Cox’s greatest achievements as a novelist were the first two of the three “inverted novels” he published under the name of Francis Iles. Both Malice Aforethought and Before the Fact are considered masterpieces and had a decisive influence on the realism of post-war crime fiction in Britain. Before the Fact served as the basis for the 1941 film Suspicion directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. In 1930, Berkeley founded the legendary Detection Club in London together with leading practitioners of the genre, such as Gilbert K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, R. Austin Freeman, Baroness Orczy and Dorothy L. Sayers. In fact, the Crimes Circle in The Poisoned Chocolates Case can rightly be considered a predecessor of the Detection Club in fiction. After 1939, Cox decided to stop writing fiction for reasons that are still subject to speculation. For the next thirty years his literary output was limited to book reviews for the Sunday Times and the Manchester Guardian. Considered a key figure in the development of crime fiction, Anthony Berkeley Cox died at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, on 9 March 1971. On his death certificate his name was mistakenly recorded as Anthony Beverley Cox.

Crime Fiction Bibliography:

Roger Sheringham series: The Layton Court Mystery published as by “?” (Herbert Jenkins, 1925; Doubleday, 1929); The Wychford Poisoning Case: An Essay in Criminology published as by the author of The Layton Court Mystery (Collins, 1926; Doubleday, 1930); Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (Collins, 1927; reprinted by Collins as The Vane Mystery; US title: The Mystery at Lovers’ Cave, Simons & Schuster, 1927); The Silk Stocking Murders (Collins, 1928; Doubleday, 1928); The Poisoned Chocolates Case (Collins, 1929; Doubleday, 1929); The Second Shot (Hodder & Stoughton, 1930; Doubleday, 1931); Top Storey Murder (Hodder, 1931; US title: Top Story Murder, Doubleday, 1931); Murder in the Basement (Hodder, 1932; Doubleday, 1932); Jumping Jenny (Hodder, 1933; US title: Dead Mrs. Stratton, Doubleday, 1933); Panic Party (Hodder, 1934; US title: Mr. Pidgeon’s Island, Doubleday, 1934); and The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries from Roger Sheringham’s Casebook (Crippen & Landru, 2004); 2nd edition with an additional story (Crippen & Landru, 2015).

Other Crime Novels: Cicely Disappears published as by A. Monmouth Platts (John Long, 1927, a shorter version appeared as a serial, The Wintringham Mystery, as by A.B. Cox, in The Daily Mirror); Mr Priestley’s Problem published as by A.B. Cox (Collins, 1927; US title: The Amateur Crime (Doubleday, 1928), The Piccadilly Murder (Collins, 1929; Doubleday, 1930); Trial and Error (Hodder, 1937; Doubleday, 1937); Not to Be Taken (Hodder, 1938; US title: A Puzzle in Poison (Doubleday, 1938); and Death in the House (Hodder, 1939; Doubleday, 1939).

Novels as Francis Iles: Malice Aforethought: The Story of a Commonplace Crime (Gollancz, 1931; Harper, 1931); Before the Fact: A Murder Story for Ladies (Gollancz, 1932; Doubleday, 1932); and As for the Woman: A Love Story (Jarrolds, 1939; Doubleday, 1939)

Collaborative works with members of the Detection Club: The Floating Admiral (Hodder, 1931; Doubleday, 1932); Ask a Policemen (Barker, 1933; Morrow, 1933); Six Against the Yard (Selwyn & Blount, 1936; US title: Six Against Scotland Yard, Doubleday, 1936); and The Scoop and Behind the Screen (both collaborative detective serials written by members of the Detection Club which were broadcast weekly by their authors on the BBC National Programme in 1930 and 1931 with the scripts then being published in The Listener within a week after broadcast. The two serials were first published in book form in the UK by Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1983 and in the US by Harper & Row in 1984)

Further reading: Elusion Aforethought: The Life and Writing of Anthony Berkeley Cox by Malcolm J. Turnbull (Bowling Green State University Press, 1996); The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (Harper Collins, 2015)

A more detailed bibliography of Anthony Berkeley Cox can be found here.

Harper Collins UK publicity page

Harper Collins US publicity page

Soundcloud

The Urbane Innovator: Anthony Berkeley, Aka Francis Iles by Martin Edwards

The Detection Club and the Mid-Century Fight Over “Fair Play” in Crime Fiction by Curtis Evans 

The Wintringham Mystery: Cicely Disappears, de Anthony Berkeley

Esta historia fue originalmente publicada por entregas por el Daily Mirror en marzo-abril de 1926 como The Wintringham Mystery por AB Cox, con un primer premio de £250, equivalente a £15.000 hoy, ofrecido a cualquier lector que pudiera deducir correctamente cómo, por qué y por medio de quién, la víctima (Stella, más tarde Cicely) desapareció. Nadie lo consiguió, incluso Agatha Christie participó en la competición y no pudo resolverlo. El texto fe revisado y publicado en forma de libro por John Long Ltd en 1927 (con algunos nombres alterados) como Cicely Disappears por A. Monmouth Platts. En el 2021, HarperCollins reeditó este libro como parte de su serie Collins Crime Club con el título original, pero manteniendo el texto revisado de 1927 con una detallada introducción del crítico, editor e historiador del género, Tony Medawar.

Descripción del libro: Stephen Munro, un oficial del ejército desmovilizado, tiene que aceptar un trabajo como lacayo para llegar a fin de mes. Empleado en Wintringham Hall, la encantadora pero decadente residencia de campo de la anciana Lady Susan Carey en Sussex, su primera tarea consiste en dar la bienvenida a sus excéntricos invitados a una fiesta familiar de fin de semana, en la que su grandilocuente sobrino, que reconoce a Stephen de su vida anterior, decide que una sesión de espiritismo después de la cena sería más entretenida que el bridge. ¡Entonces Cicely desaparece! Con Lady Susan reacia a llamar a la policía por lo que presumiblemente es una broma infantil, Stephen y la valiente Pauline Mainwaring se encargan de investigar. Pero luego, una muerte sospechosa convierte el juego en un asunto mucho más serio… Este clásico misterio invernal incorpora todos los elementos de la Edad de Oro: una casa de campo laberíntica, una sesión de espiritismo, un asesinato, una habitación cerrada por dentro, con sirvientes, sospechosos y coartadas, un romance y un ingenioso rompecabezas.

Mi opinión: En términos simples, la trama gira en torno a la desaparición de una mujer joven, llamada Cicely Vernon, durante una sesión de espiritismo después de la cena en Wintringham Hall, la casa de campo de Lady Susan Carey en Sussex. O tal vez sería mejor llamarlo Sábado de Brujas. La desaparición se produce frente al grupo de personas allí reunidas para pasar el fin de semana. Además de la propia Lady Susan, están Millicent Carey, la sobrina y heredera de Lady Susan; su sobrino Freddie Venables, hijo de la única hermana de Lady Susan; un viejo amigo suyo, un tal coronel Uffculme; Miss Rivers, la acompañante contratada de Lady Susan; Cicely Vernon, la hija de una vieja amiga de Lady Susan, de linaje tan antiguo como el suyo, pero tan pobre como rica es ella; Pauline Mainwaring y su prometido Sir Julius Hammerstein, un conocido agente de bolsa y uno de los hombres más ricos de Londres; Henry Kentisbeare, un joven inútil que vive de los recursos de sus amigos; John Starcross, un hombre que saltó a la fama hace unos meses a su regreso de una larga y peligrosa expedición por América Central y del Sur, y ahora ninguna fiesta en una casa de campo que se precie está completa sin él; Miss Baby Cullompton, una joven de expresión infantil; la señorita Annette Agnew, una joven prima lejana de Millicent y Lady Susan; y Stephen Munro, un viejo amigo de Freddie Venables.

El sábado de brujas es idea de Freddy y él desempeña el papel de maestro de ceremonias, mientras que Cicely se ofrece como voluntaria para desaparecer. Hay un mapa adjunto en la reseña de Pretty Sinister Book, que muestra la posición de todos antes de que se apaguen las luces. Cuando la habitación está a oscuras, se escucha un gemido bajo y estremecedor, precedido de un fuerte golpe. De repente, algo parece haber salido mal. Hay un corte de electricidas y las luces de las linternas muestran la silla vacía donde estaba sentada Cicely. Cicely ha desaparecido sin dejar rastro. Lady Susan considera que han sido víctimas de una broma, bromas que a Cicely le gustan mucho y se resiste a llamar a la policía. Sin embargo, Stephen Munro, un caballero empobrecido que ha tenido que renunciar a su intento de casarse con la señorita Pauline Mainwaring, une fuerzas con su antiguo amor en su búsqueda por averiguar qué sucedió.

The Wintringham Mystery es una lectura ligera y entretenida. La trama, para el gusto de hoy, puede resultar algo floja o infantil si se quiere, aunque me pareció bastante amena y divertida. Fue agradable pasar un tiempo con este libro. Contiene la mayoría de los ingredientes que uno espera de una clásica historia de detectives de la Edad de Oro, y ha sido bueno haber recuperado un libro casi olvidado de Anthony Berkeley. Un buen enigma con un desenlace inesperado.

Sobre el autor: Anthony Berkeley, cuyo verdadero nombre era Anthony Berkeley Cox, fue un popular periodista satírico, escritor de crímenes y misterio, y crítico literario británico que escribió bajo los seudónimos de Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley y A. Monmouth Platts. Nacido en Watford, Hertfordshire el 5 de julio de 1893, era hijo de Alfred Edward Cox, un médico que inventó una especie de máquina de rayos X que permitía detectar metralla en pacientes heridos. Sybil (de soltera Iles), su madre, afirmaba descender del Earl of Monmouth del siglo XVII y de un contrabandista llamado Francis Iles. La herencia familiar incluía dos propiedades en Watford: Monmouth House y The Platts. Cox se educó en el Sherborne School y en el University College, Oxford. Con el estallido de la Primera Guerra Mundial, se alistó, alcanzó el rango de teniente en el 7º Regimiento de Northumberland, fue gaseado en Francia y fue dado de baja del ejército por invalidez. Su salud quedó gravemente deteriorada el resto de su vida. Los detalles sobre su vida profesional en los años inmediatamente posteriores a la guerra son algo vagos. Con el paso del tiempo se dedicó cada vez más a escribir. Cox se casó dos veces, la primera con Margaret Farrar cuando estaba de permiso en Londres en diciembre de 1917. Se divorciaron en 1931 y Margaret Cox se volvió a casar. Al parecer, su ruptura fue amistosa. La segunda en 1932 con Helen Peters (de soltera MacGregor), exmujer de su agente literario, A. D. Peters. No nacieron hijos de ninguna de las uniones de Cox, aunque Helen aportó con ella a sus dos hijos de Peters. Su segundo matrimonio se rompió a fines de la década de 1940 y su separación nuevamente parece haber sido razonablemente amistosa. La carrera de escritor profesional de Cox comenzó alrededor de 1922, escribiendo historias satíricas para Punch y otras publicaciones populares. Su primera novela policiaca, The Layton Court Mystery, se publicó de forma anónima en 1925. Entre 1925 y 1939, publicó 14 novelas policiacas bajo el seudónimo de Anthony Berkeley, de las cuales 10 presentaban al detective aficionado Roger Sheringham. En la quinta, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, también interviene un segundo detective aficionado, Ambrose Chitterwick, que aparecerá en dos novelas más. También publicó con su nombre real, A. B. Cox, Mr Priestley’s Problem y The Wintringham Mystery. Este último fue escrito para ser publicado por entregas en el Daily Mirror. Una versión revisada apareció como Cicely Disappears en 1927, bajo el seudónimo de A. Monmouth Platts. Es ampliamente aceptado que los mayores logros de Cox como novelista fueron las dos primeras de las tres “novelas invertidas” que publicó bajo el nombre de Francis Iles. Tanto Malice Aforethought como Before the Fact se consideran obras maestras y tuvieron una influencia decisiva en el realismo de la novela policiaca de posguerra en Gran Bretaña. Before the Fact sirvió de base para la película Suspicion de 1941 dirigida por Alfred Hitchcock y protagonizada por Cary Grant y Joan Fontaine. En 1930, Berkeley fundó el legendario Detention Club en Londres junto con destacados profesionales del género, como Gilbert K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, R. Austin Freeman, Baroness Orczy y Dorothy L. Sayers. De hecho, el Círculo del Cirmen en The Poisoned Chocolates Case puede considerarse con razón un predecesor del Detention Club en la ficción. Después de 1939, Cox decidió dejar de escribir ficción por razones que aún son objeto de especulación. Durante los siguientes treinta años, su producción literaria se limitó a reseñas de libros para el Sunday Times y el Manchester Guardian. Considerado una figura clave en el desarrollo de la novela policíaca, Anthony Berkeley Cox murió en el St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, el 9 de marzo de 1971. En su certificado de defunción, su nombre se registró por error como Anthony Beverley Cox.

Bibliografía de sus novelas policiacas:

Serie de Roger Sheringham: The Layton Court Mystery [El Misterio de Layton Court] published as by “?” (Herbert Jenkins, 1925; Doubleday, 1929); The Wychford Poisoning Case: An Essay in Criminology published as by the author of The Layton Court Mystery (Collins, 1926; Doubleday, 1930); Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery (Collins, 1927; reprinted by Collins as The Vane Mystery; US title: The Mystery at Lovers’ Cave, Simons & Schuster, 1927); The Silk Stocking Murders [El crimen de las medias de seda] (Collins, 1928; Doubleday, 1928); The Poisoned Chocolates Case [El caso de los bombones envenenados ](Collins, 1929; Doubleday, 1929); The Second Shot (Hodder & Stoughton, 1930; Doubleday, 1931); Top Storey Murder (Hodder, 1931; US title: Top Story Murder, Doubleday, 1931); Murder in the Basement [Asesinato en el sótano] (Hodder, 1932; Doubleday, 1932); Jumping Jenny [Baile de máscaras] (Hodder, 1933; US title: Dead Mrs. Stratton, Doubleday, 1933); Panic Party (Hodder, 1934; US title: Mr. Pidgeon’s Island, Doubleday, 1934); and The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries from Roger Sheringham’s Casebook (Crippen & Landru, 2004); 2nd edition with an additional story (Crippen & Landru, 2015).

Otras novelas policiacas: Cicely Disappears published as by A. Monmouth Platts (John Long, 1927, a shorter version appeared as a serial, The Wintringham Mystery, as by A.B. Cox, in The Daily Mirror); Mr Priestley’s Problem published as by A.B. Cox (Collins, 1927; US title: The Amateur Crime (Doubleday, 1928), The Piccadilly Murder (Collins, 1929; Doubleday, 1930); Trial and Error [El dueño de la muerte] (Hodder, 1937; Doubleday, 1937); Not to Be Taken (Hodder, 1938; US title: A Puzzle in Poison (Doubleday, 1938); and Death in the House (Hodder, 1939; Doubleday, 1939).

Como Francis Iles: Malice Aforethought: The Story of a Commonplace Crime [Premeditación] (Gollancz, 1931; Harper, 1931); Before the Fact: A Murder Story for Ladies [Complicidad] (Gollancz, 1932; Doubleday, 1932); and As for the Woman: A Love Story [Las redes del amor] (Jarrolds, 1939; Doubleday, 1939)

Trabajos en colaboración con otros miembros del Detection Club: The Floating Admiral (Hodder, 1931; Doubleday, 1932); Ask a Policemen (Barker, 1933; Morrow, 1933); Six Against the Yard (Selwyn & Blount, 1936; US title: Six Against Scotland Yard, Doubleday, 1936); and The Scoop and Behind the Screen (both collaborative detective serials written by members of the Detection Club which were broadcast weekly by their authors on the BBC National Programme in 1930 and 1931 with the scripts then being published in The Listener within a week after broadcast. The two serials were first published in book form in the UK by Victor Gollancz Ltd in 1983 and in the US by Harper & Row in 1984)

Otras lecturas: Elusion Aforethought: The Life and Writing of Anthony Berkeley Cox by Malcolm J. Turnbull (Bowling Green State University Press, 1996); The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (Harper Collins, 2015).

Una bibliografía más detallada de la obra de Anthony Berkeley Cox se puede encontrar aquí.

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