My Book Notes: The Poisoned Chocolates Case (Revisited), 1929 (Roger Sheringham Cases #5) by Anthony Berkeley

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British Library Publishing, 2016. Format: Kindle edition. File Size: 2627 KB. Print Length: 247 pages. ASIN: B01KIHJMAS. eISBN: 978-0-7123-6424-9. Introduction and new Epilogue by Martin Edwards, 2016. Originally published in 1929 by W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. This new edition includes an alternative ending by the Golden Age writer Christianna Brand, as well as a brand new solution devised specially for the British Library by the crime novelist and Golden Age expert Martin Edwards

51ePsaKHWRLSummary: The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) is a detective novel by Anthony Berkeley set in 1920s London in which a group of armchair detectives, who have founded the “Crimes Circle”, formulate theories on a recent murder case Scotland Yard has been unable to solve. Each of the six members, including their president, Berkeley’s amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham, arrives at an altogether different solution as to the motive and the identity of the perpetrator, and also applies different methods of detection (basically deductive or inductive or a combination of both). Completely devoid of brutality but containing a lot of subtle, tongue-in-cheek humour instead, The Poisoned Chocolates Case is one of the classic whodunnits of the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction. As at least six plausible explanations of what really happened are put forward one after the other, the reader—just like the members of the Crimes Circle themselves—is kept guessing right up to the final pages of the book. (Source: Wikipedia)

The genesis of the plot can be found in a clever short story, “The Avenging Chance”, in which Roger solves the murder of Joan Beresford. Berkely expanded the story, making changes in the process, above all by ng Roger’s solution shown to be mistaken. In an odd twist somehow typical of Berkeley’s contrariness, the novel appears to have been published before the short story, perhaps he realised that he had come up with a superb concept, and felt it made commercial sense for the novel to appear first. [Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 books (British Library Publishing, 2018)].

My Take: I’m re-visiting The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley, mainly because I quite forgot the denouement of the original story and because I also was interested in reading Martin Edwards’ Introduction and Epilogue together with the new solutions proposed by both, Christianna Brand and Martin Edwards himself. It was funny to find out how the whole story came back to me while I was re-reading it, and I must confess that I have started to appreciate it much more after a second read.

The story can be summarised as follows: Sir Eustace Pennefather, a notorious womanizer, receives a box of chocolates while staying at his London club. He disapproves such modern marketing techniques and is about to throw it away. But Graham Bendix, another club member whom he hardly knows, has lost a bet with his wife and needs one. Bendix accepts the box, takes it home and gives it to his wife. Both try them together after lunch. His wife takes seven and he takes two. A few hours later Joan Bendix is dead, poisoned by nitrobenzene, while he is left seriously ill. It becomes clear that the intended victim was Sir Eustace Pennefather rather than the innocent Joan Bendix, but Scotland Yard, unable to solve the case, accept the rather unusual suggestion made by Roger Sheringham. They never would have encouraged it, but finally they let him try it, albeit with certain reluctance, since they did not find anything wrong in it. Roger Sheringham’s suggestion was that his Club, the Crimes Circle, should take up the investigation of the case where the authorities, had left it.

The so-called Crimes Circle, a private club run by Roger Sheringham himself, is made up by six members among which we can find ‘… a famous lawyer, a scarcely less famous woman dramatist, a brilliant novelist who ought to have been more famous than she was, the most intelligent (if not the most amiable) of living detective-story writers, Roger Sheringham himself and Mr Ambrose Chitterwick, who was not famous at all, a mild little man of no particular appearance who had been even more surprised at being admitted to this company of personages than they had been at finding him amongst them.’  A club that can be rightly considered a fictional predecessor of the Detection Club, formed in 1930 by a group of British mystery writers, including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Arthur Morrison, Hugh Walpole, John Rhode, Jessie Rickard, Baroness Emma Orczy, R. Austin Freeman, G. D. H. Cole, Margaret Cole, E. C. Bentley, Henry Wade, and H. C. Bailey. And in which Anthony Berkeley himself was instrumental in its setting up.

The object of such experiment will be that every club member, working independently, and using whatever method of investigation  each would deemed most appropiate, deductive, inductive or a mixture of both, could come up with a reasoned explanation to the case. For such purpose they will dispose of one week for formulating their own theories and carrying out any investigation they consider necessary. After which  the members will meet again on six consecutive evenings and each one of them will read their papers and present their own conclusions in the order that luck decides next.

Each solution will be credible, but the problem is that each one points to a different murderer and the reader will be kept puzzled up to the final pages.

I can simply say that The Poisoned Chocolates Case not only established a new milestone in the history of detective fiction, but still is a brilliant novel which is well worth reading. As point out in some reviews, detection is not an exact science and allows different alternatives. The number of possible solutions, if we think about it carefully, enable various interpretations. The two additional endings are a good evidence of this, even though the quality of the new solution proposed by Martin Edwards is far superior, in my view, to the one by Christianna Brand. It turned out interesting to verify how the shape in which the facts are presented by the authors may condition the conclusions at which they arrive. In a nutshell, a superb story that is fun to read and that I highly recommended. 

The Poisoned Chocolates Case is included in Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 books (British Library Publishing, 2018).

My rating: A+ (Don’t delay, get your hands on a copy of this book)

The Poisoned Chocolates Case has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki, A Penguin a week, The Green Capsule, Cross-Examining Crime, The Invisible Event, Vintage Pop Fictions, The Reader is Warned, Bedford Bookshelf, In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Mystery File, Classic Mysteries, Clothes in Books, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Past Offences, Noah’s Archives and At the Villa Rose.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins Detective Novel (UK), 1929)

About the Author: Anthony Berkeley was born Anthony Berkeley Cox in 1893. A journalist as well as a novelist, he was a founding member of the Detection Club and one of crime fiction’s greatest innovators. Writing at a time when the main form of the detective story was that of a puzzle – with emphasis on plot rather than on character – he was one of the first to foresee the development of the ‘psychological’ crime novel and to successfully carry out his predictions, writing under the pseudonym of Francis Iles. In Malice Aforethought (1931) there is no problem in the conventional sense as the intended plans of the murderer are declared at the beginning of the action. The interest lies in whether these plans will be successfully carried out and in the interplay between the characters in the book. Two more novels were written under his pseudonym. Before the Fact (1932), where again there is no puzzle of the classical kind, and As for the Woman (1939), which was to be the first part of an intended trilogy which he never finished. Other novels written as Anthony Berkeley, include The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926; The Silk Stocking Murders, 1928; The Piccadilly Murders, 1929; The Second Shot, 1930; Murder in the Basement, 1932; Jumping Jenny, 1933; Panic Party, 1934, Trial and Error, 1937; Not to Be Taken, 1938; Death in the House, 1939 and, probably the best known The Poisoned Chocolates Case, 1929. Altogether he wrote twenty-four novels, ten of which feature his amateur detective, Roger Sheringham. Anthony Berkeley died in 1971. (Source: Penguin Classic Crime)

Ranking the Work of Anthony Berkeley at Cross-Examining Crime.

British Library Publishing publicity page

Felony & Mayhem publicity page

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

audible

El caso de los bombones envenenados, de Anthony Berkeley

650_H419613.jpgResumen: El caso de los bombones envenenados (1929) es una novela policíaca de Anthony Berkeley ambientada en el Londres de la década de 1920 en la que un grupo de detectives de salón, que han fundado el “Crimes Circle”, formulan teorías sobre un caso de asesinato reciente que Scotland Yard no ha podido resolver. Cada uno de los seis miembros, incluido su presidente, el detective aficionado de Berkeley, Roger Sheringham, llega a una solución completamente diferente en cuanto al motivo y la identidad del autor, y también aplica diferentes métodos de detección (básicamente deductivo o inductivo o una combinación de ambos). Completamente desprovisto de brutalidad, pero con mucho humor sutil e irónico, El caso de los bombones envenenados es una de las novelas clásicas de la llamada Edad de Oro del género policíaco. A medida que se presentan una tras otra al menos seis explicaciones convincentes de lo que realmente sucedió, el lector, al igual que los propios miembros del “Crimes Circle”, permanece dudando hasta las últimas páginas del libro. (Fuente. Wikipedia)

La génesis de la trama se puede encontrar en un ingenioso cuento, “The Avenging Chance”, en el que Roger resuelve el asesinato de Joan Beresford. Berkely amplió la historia, haciendo cambios en la misma, sobre todo al mostrar que la solución de Roger estaba equivocada. En un giro extraño típico de Berkeley, la novela parece haber sido publicada antes que el cuento, tal vez se dio cuenta de que se le había ocurrido un concepto excelente y sintió que tenía sentido comercial que la novela apareciera primero.  [The Story of Classic Crime in 100 books by Martin Edwards (British Library Publishing, 2018)].

Mi opinión: Estoy volviendo a examinar El caso de los bombones envenenados de Anthony Berkeley, principalmente porque olvidé por completo el desenlace de la historia original y porque también estaba interesado en leer la introducción y el epílogo de Martin Edwards junto con las nuevas soluciones propuestas por ambos, Christianna Brand y el propio Martin Edwards. Fue divertido descubrir cómo me iba acordando de toda la historia mientras la releía, y debo confesar que he empezado a apreciarla mucho más después de una segunda lectura.

La historia se puede resumir de la siguiente manera: Sir Eustace Pennefather, un conocido mujeriego, recibe una caja de bombones mientras se hospeda en su club de Londres. Él desaprueba estas técnicas de marketing modernas y está a punto de tirarlas. Pero Graham Bendix, otro miembro del club al que apenas conoce, ha perdido una apuesta con su mujer y necesita una. Bendix acepta la caja, se la lleva a casa y se la da a su esposa. Ambos los prueban juntos después del almuerzo. Su esposa toma siete y él toma dos. Unas horas más tarde Joan Bendix muere, envenenada por nitrobenceno, mientras que él queda gravemente enfermo. Queda claro que la víctima prevista era Sir Eustace Pennefather en lugar de la inocente Joan Bendix, pero Scotland Yard, incapaz de resolver el caso, acepta la sugerencia bastante inusual hecha por Roger Sheringham. Nunca lo habrían animado, pero finalmente lo dejaron intentarlo, aunque con cierta reticencia, ya que no encontraron nada de malo en ello. La sugerencia de Roger Sheringham era que su Club, el Crimes Circle, debería hacerse cargo de la investigación del caso donde las autoridades lo habían dejado.

El llamado “Crimes Circle”, un club privado fundado por el propio Roger Sheringham, está formado por seis socios entre los que podemos encontrar ‘… un famoso abogado, una autora teatral apenas algo menos famosa, una brillante novelista que debería haber sido más famosa de lo que era, el más inteligente (si no el más amable) de los escritores de historias de detectives vivos, el propio Roger Sheringham y el señor Ambrose Chitterwick, que no era en absoluto famoso, un hombrecillo afable sin ninguna apariencia en especial que se había sorprendido incluso más por haber sido admitido en esta compañía de personajes que lo que éstos se habian sorprendido por encontrarlo entre ellos. Un club que puede considerarse con razón un predecesor ficticio del Detection Club, formado en 1930 por un grupo de escritores de misterio británicos, incluidos Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Arthur Morrison, Hugh Walpole, John Rhode, Jessie Rickard, la baronesa Emma Orczy, R. Austin Freeman, GDH Cole, Margaret Cole, EC Bentley, Henry Wade y HC Bailey. Y en el que el propio Anthony Berkeley tuvo un papel fundamental en su puesta en marcha.

El objeto de tal experimento será que cada miembro del club, trabajando independientemente y usando cualquier método de investigación que cada uno considere más apropiado, deductivo, inductivo o una combinación de ambos, pueda llegar a una explicación razonada del caso. Para ello dispondrán de una semana para formular sus propias teorías y realizar las investigaciones que consideren necesarias. Después de ello los miembros se volverán a reunir durante seis noches consecutivas y cada uno de ellos leerá sus ponencias y presentará sus propias conclusiones en el orden que la suerte decida a continuación.

Cada solución será creíble, pero el problema es que cada una apunta a un asesino diferente y el lector permanecerá desconcertado hasta las últimas páginas..

Simplemente puedo decir que El caso de los bombones envenenados no solo marcó un nuevo hito en la historia de la novela policíaca, sino que sigue siendo una novela brillante que vale la pena leer. Como se señala en algunas reseñas, la detección no es una ciencia exacta y permite diferentes alternativas. El número de posibles soluciones, si lo pensamos detenidamente, permite diversas interpretaciones. Los dos finales adicionales son una buena prueba de ello, aunque la calidad de la nueva solución propuesta por Martin Edwards es muy superior, en mi opinión, a la de Christianna Brand. Resultó interesante comprobar cómo la forma en que los autores presentan los hechos puede condicionar las conclusiones a las que llegan. En pocas palabras, una excelente historia que es divertida de leer y que recomiendo encarecidamente.

El caso de los bombones envenenados está incluída en The Story of Classic Crime in 100 books de Martin Edwards (British Library Publishing, 2018).

Mi valoración: A+ (No se demore, consiga un ejemplar de este libro)

Ver la reseña, entre otras, de El caso de los bombones envenenados en Calibre 38.

Acerca del autor: Anthony Berkeley, su nombre completo era Anthony Berkeley Cox, nació en 1893. Periodista y novelista, fue miembro fundador del Detection Club y uno de los mayores innovadores de la novela policiaca. Escribiendo en un momento en el que la forma principal de novela policiaca era la de novela enigma, con énfasis en la trama más que en los personajes, fue uno de los primeros en anticipar el desarrollo de la novela policíaca ‘psicológica’ y en llevar a cabo con éxito sus expectativas, escribiendo bajo el seudónimo de Francis Iles. En Malice Aforethought (1931) no hay enigma en el sentido convencional, ya que los planes intencionados del asesino se manifiestan al comienzo de la acción. El interés radica en si estos planes se llevarán a cabo con éxito y en la interacción entre los personajes del libro. Escribió otras dos novelas más bajo este pseudónimo, Before the Fact (1932), donde de nuevo no existe enigma en el sentido clásico, y As for the Woman (1939), que iba a ser la primera parte de una trilogía que nunca terminó. Otras novelas escritas como Anthony Berkeley, incluyen The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926; The Silk Stocking Murders, 1928 (titulo en español: El crimen de las medias de seda); The Piccadilly Murders, 1929; The Second Shot, 1930; Murder in the Basement, 1932 (tílulo en español: Asesinato en el sótano); Jumping Jenny, 1933 (titulo en español: Baile de máscaras); Panic Party, 1934, Trial and Error, 1937; Not to Be Taken, 1938; Death in the House, 1939 y, probablemente la más conocida The Poisoned Chocolates Case, 1929 (título en español: El caso de los bombones envenenados). En total, escribió veinticuatro novelas, diez de las cuales están protagonizadas por su detective aficionado, Roger Sheringham. Anthony Berkeley murió en 1971. (Fuente: Penguin Classic Crime)

Anthony Berkeley (1893 – 1971)

anthony berkeleyBorn in 1893, Anthony Berkeley (Anthony Berkeley Cox) was a British crime writer and a leading member of the genre’s Golden Age. Educated at Sherborne School and University College London, Berkeley served in the British army during WWI before becoming a journalist. His first novel, The Layton Court Murders, was published anonymously in 1925. It introduced Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective who features in many of the author’s novels including the classic The Poisoned Chocolates Case. In 1930, Berkeley founded the legendary Detection Club in London along with Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and other established mystery writers. It was in 1938, under the pseudonym Francis Iles (which Berkeley also used for novels) that he took up work as a book reviewer for John O’London’s Weekly and The Daily Telegraph. He later wrote for The Sunday Times in the mid 1940s, and then for The Guardian from the mid 1950s until 1970. A key figure in the development of crime fiction, he died in 1971. (Source: Amazon)

Anthony Berkeley Cox tends to be mostly remembered for the first two of his “sophisticated,” psychological “Francis Iles” novels, Malice Aforethought (1931) and Before the Fact (1932). As for the more numerous crime novels Cox wrote under the name “Anthony Berkeley,” the great standouts traditionally have been The Poisoned Chocolates Case, a stunt story much praised by Julian Symons and others, and the clever criminal and judicial extravaganza Trial and Error (1937), in my opinion Cox’s magnum opus. Little of the rest of Cox’s output gets much notice, though in my view some of it, particularly Top Storey Murder (1931), Jumping Jenny (1933) and Not to be Taken (1938), is excellent. (Curt J. Evans)

For further information read:

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

Elusion Aforethought: The Life and Writing of Anthony Berkeley Cox (1996) by Malcolm J. Turnbull by Kate Jackson

Ranking the Work of Anthony Berkeley by Kate Jackson.

A Selected Anthony Berkeley reading list

Roger Sheringham series: The Layton Court Mystery [published anonymously] (1925); The Wychford Poisoning Case (1926); Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery aka The Mystery at Lover’s Cave (1927); The Silk Stocking Murders (1928); The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929); The Second Shot (1930); Top Storey Murder (1931); Murder in the Basement (1932); Jumping Jenny aka Dead Mrs. Stratton (1933); Panic Party aka  Mr. Pidgeon’s Island (1934); and The Avenging Chance and Other Mysteries From Roger Sheringham’s Casebook (2004).

Novels as Francis Iles: Malice Aforethought (1931); Before the Fact (1931); The Rattenbury Case (1936); and As for the Woman (1939).

Other Crime Novels: The Professor On Paws (1926); Cicely Disappears as A. Monmouth Platts (1927); Mr. Priestley’s Problem aka The Amateur Crime as A.B. Cox (1927); The Piccadilly Murder (1929); The Policeman Only Taps Once (1936); Trial and Error (1937); Not to Be Taken aka A Puzzle in Poison (1938); and Death in the House (1939). (Source: The Urbane Innovator: Anthony Berkeley, Aka Francis Iles by Martin Edwards).

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(Facsimile Dust Jacket, Collins Detective Novel (UK), 1929)

Once Mr Chitterwick had given his evidence, thus clarifying that the elderly lady’s death was murder and not suicide, it appeared a straightforward case. He had seen something being put into the lady’s coffee cup, after all. But then friends and relatives of the accused appeal to Mr Chitterwick, claiming him incapable of such a crime. As Mr Chitterwick investigates, doubts begin to surface, until more evidence arises to hint at a more complicated set of occurrences… (The Langtail Press).

The Piccadilly Murder has been reviewed, among others, at crossexaminingcrime, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, The View from the Blue House, and The Grandest Game in the World.

My Book Notes: Trial and Error, 1937 by Anthony Berkeley

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Arcturus, 2013. Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 1234 KB. Print Length: 272 pages. ASIN: B00FYWYYOW. ISBN: 978-1-78212-851-9. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton in 1937 and in the US in the same year by Doubleday.

19028568Opening Paragraph: “ ‘The sanctity of Human Life has been much exaggerated,’ “ quoted Ferrers. “Just think what courage it took to say that, to a crowd of confirmed sentimentalist–proffesional sentimentalists, some of ’em.”

Synopsis: Non-descript, upstanding Mr Todhunter is told that he has only months to live. He decides to commit a murder for the good of mankind. Finding a worthy victim proves far from easy, and there is a false start before he settles on and dispatches his target. But then the police arrest an innocent man, and the honourable Todhunter has to set about proving himself guilty of the murder. Beautifully presented with striking artwork and stylish yet easy-to-read type, avid readers of crime will love reading this gripping, well-written thriller. The appetite for traditional crime fiction has never been stronger, and Arcturus Crime Classics aim to introduce a new generation of readers to some of the great crime writing of the 20th century – especially the so-called ‘golden era’.

My take: Lawrence Todhunter, a mild-mannered character, a bachelor aged fifty-one, finds out he only has a few months to live after he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm. He comes to realise that, to date, he has led a bland and obscure life and, consequently, begins to think about making something useful for benefit of humankind before leaving this world. What first springs to his mind is a political assassination. At that time, we are in 1936, there are certainly no lack of candidates, like for instance Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin. However, after listening his friends that neither Nazism nor Communism would disappeared with the assassination of their leaders, and that a successor might be even worst, he decides to eliminate someone closer. Someone really despicable that makes miserable the life of all those with whom he (or she) becomes related with. Finding the appropriate victim is not an easy task, but he finally chooses Jean Norwood, a terribly unpleasant actress who despises all those around her. Todhunter succeeds in his aim, but he didn’t take into account that the police might charge someone else for his crime. Then, someone else is accused and sentenced to death for his crime and, despite all their efforts to prove his guilt, no one will believe him.

Anthony Berkeley tackles the issue of the altruistic crime in this novel. As Martin Edwards singles out in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. To add later that:

Berkeley’s presentation of the legal technicalities in Trial and Error prompted questions, which he answered in an introductory note to a later edition. Explaining that he had based one part of the plot on the complications that ensued following a murder committed in a London pub in 1864, he said: ‘There were . . . two men in prison at the same time, each of whom had separately been found guilty of the death of the same man, and the authorities clearly did not know what to do about it.’ In the circumstances, he argued, it was reasonable for this story to feature a private prosecution, but if not, ‘I am very, very sorry.’ Berkeley’s scepticism about the working of the law and the machinery of justice was never more evident that in this unpredictable and highly entertaining novel. 

To conclude, I wouldn’t want to fail mentioning that the final twist of the story in its epilogue should not overlooked. This turn is what, in my view, makes even more interesting, if at all possible, the entire novel. In short, Trial and Error turns out to be one of the most cunning, ironic and original mysteries ever written.

My rating: A (I loved it)

Trial and Error has been reviewed at A Penguin a week, The Invisible Event, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, and At the Scene of the Crime, among others.

About the author: Anthony Berkeley Cox was an English crime writer. He wrote under several pen-names, including Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley and A. Monmouth Platts. He was born in 1893 in Watford, and educated at Sherborne School and University College, Oxford. After serving in the British Army in World War I, he worked as a journalist for many years, contributing to such magazines as Punch and The Humorist. His first novel, The Layton Court Mystery, was published anonymously in 1925. It introduced Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective who features in many of the author’s novels including the classic The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929). In 1930, Berkeley founded the legendary Detection Club in London along with Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts and other established mystery writers. In 1931 his book Malice Aforethought was published  using the pseudonym of “Francis Iles”. His 1932 novel (also published as “Francis Iles”), Before the Fact was adapted into the 1941 classic film Suspicion, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Cary Grant and Joan Fontaine. Trial and Error (1937) was turned into the unusual 1941 film Flight From Destiny starring Thomas Mitchell. In 1938, he took up book reviewing for John O’London’s Weekly and the Daily Telegraph, writing under his pen name Francis Iles. He also wrote for the Sunday Times in the 1940s and for the Manchester Guardian, later The Guardian, from the mid-1950s until 1970. A key figure in the development of crime fiction, he died in 1971.

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

El dueño de la muerte (Trial and Error, 1937) de Anthony Berkeley

Primer párrafo: “El caracter sagrado de la vida humana ha sido algo muy exagerado”, citó Ferrers. “Solo piense el valor que hizo falta para decir eso, ante una multitud de sentimentalistas comprobados, sentimentalistas profesionales, algunos de ellos”.

Sinopsis: El anodino y respetable Sr. Todhunter, se entera de que solo le quedan algunos meses de vida. Entonces decide cometer un asesinato por el bien de la humanidad. Encontrar una víctima que lo merezca no es nada fácil, y tras un un comienzo en falso se decide y liquida a su objetivo. Pero la policía arresta a un hombre inocente, y el honorable Todhunter tiene que abordar la tarea de demostrar que él ha sido el verdadero culpable del asesinato. Maravillosamente presentada como una novela sosrprendente y elegante aunque de fácil lectura, los entusiastas lectores del género disfrutarán con la lectura  de esta apasionante y bien escrita novela de misterio. Nunca ha sido tan grande el gusto por las novelas policiacas tradicionales, y Arcturus Crime Classics pretende dar a conocer a una nueva generación de lectores algunas de las grandes obras de misterio del siglo XX, sobre todo de la denominada “Edad de Oro”.

Mi opinión: Lawrence Todhunter, un personaje de buenos modales, soltero de cincuenta y un años, descubre que solo le quedan algunos meses de vida después de que le diagnosticaron un aneurisma de aórta. Se da cuenta de que, hasta la fecha, ha llevado una vida insípida y oscura y, en consecuencia, comienza a pensar en hacer algo útil para beneficio de la humanidad antes de abandonar este mundo. Lo primero que le viene a la mente es un asesinato político. En ese momento, estamos en 1936, ciertamente no faltan candidatos, como por ejemplo Hitler, Mussolini o Stalin. Sin embargo, después de escuchar a sus amigos que ni el nazismo ni el comunismo desaparecerían con el asesinato de sus líderes, y que un sucesor podría ser aún peor, decide eliminar a alguien más cercano. Alguien realmente despreciable que haga miserable la vida de todos aquellos con quienes se relaciona. Encontrar a la víctima adecuada no es una tarea fácil, pero finalmente elige a Jean Norwood, una actriz terriblemente desagradable que desprecia a todos los que la rodean. Todhunter tiene éxito en su objetivo, pero no tuvo en cuenta que la policía podría acusar a otra persona por su crimen. Entonces, alguien más es acusado y condenado a muerte por su crimen y, a pesar de todos sus esfuerzos por demostrar su culpabilidad, nadie le creerá.

Anthony Berkeley aborda el tema del crimen altruista en esta novela. Como Martin Edwards destaca en su libro La historia de los clásicos del crimen en 100 libros. Para añadir más tarde que:

La presentación de Berkeley de los tecnicismos legales en Trial and Error plantea interrogantes, a los que el mismo respondió en una nota introductoria en una edición posterior. Explicando que había basado una parte de la trama en las complicaciones que siguieron a un asesinato cometido en un pub de Londres en 1864, dijo: “Hubo. . . ‘dos hombres en prisión al mismo tiempo, cada uno de los cuales por separado fue declarado culpable de la muerte del mismo hombre, y las autoridades claramente no sabían qué hacer al respecto’. Dadas las circunstancias, argumentó, era razonable que esta historia contara con un proceso privado, pero si no, ‘lo siento mucho, muchísimo’. El escepticismo de Berkeley sobre el funcionamiento de la ley y de la maquinaria de la justicia nunca fue más evidente que en esta novela imprevisible y sumamente entretenida.

Para concluir, no quisiera dejar de mencionar que el giro final de la historia en su epílogo no debe pasarse por alto. Este giro es lo que, en mi opinión, hace aún más interesante, si esto es posible, toda la novela. En resumen, Trial and Error resulta ser uno de los misterios más astutos, irónicos y originales jamás escritos.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Sobre el autor: Anthony Berkeley Cox fue un escritor inglés de novelas de misterio. Escribió bajo varios nombres: Francis Iles, Anthony Berkeley y A. Monmouth Platts. Nació en 1893 en Watford, y se educó en el Sherborne School y en la University College de Oxford. Después de servir en el ejército británico durante la Primera Guerra Mundial, trabajó como periodista durante muchos años en revistas como Punch y The Humorist. Su primera novela, El misterio de Layton Court, se publicó de forma anónima en 1925. En ella nos presenta por primera vez a Roger Sheringham, el detective aficionado que aparece en muchas de las novelas del autor, incluido su ya clásica novela El caso de los bombones envenenados (1929). En 1930, Berkeley fundó el legendario Detection Club en Londres junto con Agatha Christie, Freeman Wills Crofts y otros reconocidos escritores de misterio. En 1931 se publicó su libro Malice Aforethought con el seudónimo de “Francis Iles”. Su novela de 1932 (también publicada como “Francis Iles”), Before the Fact, fue adaptada al cine convirtiéndose en la hoy clásica película de 1941 Sospecha, dirigida por Alfred Hitchcock, protagonizada por Cary Grant y Joan Fontaine. Trial and Error (1937) –traduciada al español como El dueño de la muerte– se convirtió en la insólita película de 1941 Huyendo del destino protagonizada por Thomas Mitchell. En 1938, comenzó a hacer reseñas bibliográficas para John O’London’s Weekly y el Daily Telegraph, escribiendo bajo el seudónimo Francis Iles. También escribió para el Sunday Times en la década de 1940 y para el Manchester Guardian, más tarde The Guardian, desde mediados de la década de 1950 hasta 1970. Considerado una figura fundamental en el desarrollo del género, falleció en 1971.

Por cierto que tanto El caso de los bombones envenenados como El dueño de la muerte fueron publicados en la colección El séptimo círculo dirigida por Jorge Luis Borges y Adolfo Bioy Casares de editorial Emecé en Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The Justice Game

Martin Edwards , in his excellent The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, devotes Chapter 15 to ‘The Justice Game’ where he examines the following books:

Trial an Error, 1937 by Anthony Berkeley (Arcturus, 2013)

19028568Synopsis: Non-descript, upstanding Mr Todhunter is told that he has only months to live. He decides to commit a murder for the good of mankind. Finding a worthy victim proves far from easy, and there is a false start before he settles on and dispatches his target. But then the police arrest an innocent man, and the honourable Todhunter has to set about proving himself guilty of the murder. Beautifully presented with striking artwork and stylish yet easy-to-read type, avid readers of crime will love reading this gripping, well-written thriller. The appetite for traditional crime fiction has never been stronger, and Arcturus Crime Classics aim to introduce a new generation of readers to some of the great crime writing of the 20th century – especially the so-called ‘golden era’.

About the Author: Anthony Berkeley Cox (1893 – 1971) aka Francis Iles, A Monmouth Platts. A journalist as well as a novelist, Anthony Berkeley was a founding member of the Detection Club and one of crime fiction’s greatest innovators. He was one of the first to predict the development of the ‘psychological’ crime novel and he sometimes wrote under the pseudonym of Francis Iles. He wrote twenty-four novels, ten of which feature his amateur detective, Roger Sheringham.

Verdict of Twelve, 1940 by Raymond Postgate (British Library Publishing, 2017)

32602747._SX318_Synopsis: A woman is on trial for her life, accused of murder. The twelve members of the jury each carry their own secret burden of guilt and prejudice which could affect the outcome. In this extraordinary crime novel, we follow the trial through the eyes of the jurors as they hear the evidence and try to reach a unanimous verdict. Will they find the defendant guilty, or not guilty? And will the jurors’ decision be the correct one? Since its first publication in 1940, Verdict of Twelve has been widely hailed as a classic of British crime writing. This edition offers a new generation of readers the chance to find out why so many leading commentators have admired the novel for so long.

About the Author: Raymond Postgate (1896 – 1971) was born in Cambridge, the eldest son of the classical scholar Professor J.P. Postgate. He was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford. During the First World War he was a conscientious objector and was jailed for two weeks in 1916. He married Daisy Lansbury, the daughter of George Lansbury, pacifist and leader of the Labour Party. His career in journalism started in 1918 and he worked for several Left-wing periodicals. He was also Departmental Editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica for its 1929 edition.

Tragedy at Law, 1942 by Cyril Hare (Faber & Faber, 2011)

51n-SBMe9fLSynopsis: Tragedy at Law follows a rather self-important High Court judge, Mr Justice Barber, as he moves from town to town presiding over cases in the Southern England circuit. When an anonymous letter arrives for Barber, warning of imminent revenge, he dismisses it as the work of a harmless lunatic. But then a second letter appears, followed by a poisoned box of the judge’s favourite chocolates, and he begins to fear for his life. Enter barrister and amateur detective Francis Pettigrew, a man who was once in love with Barber’s wife and has never quite succeeded in his profession – can he find out who is threatening Barber before it is too late?

About the Author: Cyril Hare was the pseudonym of Judge Gordon Clark (1900 – 1958) . Born at Mickleham near Dorking, he was educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. At the bar his practice was largely in the criminal courts. During the Second World War he was on the staff of the Director of Public Prosecutions; but later, as a County Court judge, his work concerned civil disputes only – and his sole connection with crime was through his fiction. He turned to writing detective stories at the age of thirty-six and some of his first short stories were published in Punch. Hare went on to write a series of detective novels.

Smallbone Deceased, 1950 by Michael Gilbert (British Library Publishing, 2019)

45998455._SY475_Synopsis: Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation—especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr. Smallbone was—and why he had to die. Written with style, pace, and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

About the Author: Born in Lincolnshire, Michael Francis Gilbert (1912 – 2006) was educated in Sussex before entering the University of London where he gained an LLB with honours in 1937. Gilbert was a founding member of the British Crime Writers Association, and in 1988 he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America – an achievement many thought long overdue. He won the Life Achievement Anthony Award at the 1990 Boucheron in London, and in 1980 he was knighted as a Commander in the Order of the British Empire. Gilbert made his debut in 1947 with Close Quarters, and since then has become recognized as one of our most versatile British mystery writers.

Now I’m reading Smallbone Deceased and I look forward to reading soon the other three. Stay tuned.

Friday’s Forgotten Books: The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

Sir Eustace Pennefather, a notorious womanizer, receives a box of chocolates while staying at his London club. He disapproves such modern marketing techniques and is about to throw it away. But Graham Bendix, another club member whom he hardly knows, has lost a bet with his wife and needs one.

Bendix accepts the box, takes it home and gives it to his wife. Both try them together after lunch. His wife takes seven and he takes two. A few hours later Joan Bendix is dead, poisoned by nitrobenzene, while he is left seriously ill.

It becomes clear that the intended victim was Sir Eustace Pennefather rather than the innocent Joan Bendix, but Scotland Yard, unable to solve the case, takes an unusual approach. A group of six amateur sleuths, the Roger Sheringham’s Crime Circle, is call in. They have one week to come up with a solution individually and to present their case in six consecutive nights of the following week. Each solution is credible, but the problem is that each points to a different murderer and the reader is kept guessing up to the final pages.

This is a superb and very entertaining book, that hopefully will be available in Spanish soon. Absolutely delicious.

The Poisoned Chocolate Case (1929) remains, and deservedly, the Sheringham novel most fondly remembered by enthusiasts for Golden Age detective fiction.’ (Martin Edwards).

See some customer’s reviews at Amazon and Wikipedia for additional information.

Anthony Berkeley (1893 – 1971), a journalist as well as a novelist, was a founding member of the Detection Club and one of crime fiction’s greatest innovators. He was one of the first to predict the development of the ‘psychological’ crime novel and he sometimes wrote under the pseudonym of Francis Iles. He wrote twenty-four novels, ten of which feature his amateur detective, Roger Sheringham. (Taken from Fantastic fiction).

Anthony Berkeley

The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929)

Felony & Mayhem, 2010.

Number of pages: 224

ISBN: 978-1934609446