30 August 2016

Review: The Affair of the Mutilated Mink by James Anderson

The cover of my copy.
Genre: Historical murder mystery; detective fiction. 
Themes: Murder, secrets, false identities, false pretences, unexpected visitors, movies, young love. 
Reading challenge: What's in a Name 2016
Challenge book no.: 4/6, a book with an item of clothing in the title.

The titular mink (a coat) is the property of one of the characters in this frothy and funny country-house murder mystery. (You will have to read the book if you want to know how and why it got mutilated).


The Affair of the Mutilated Mink and the books that preceded it and followed it, The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy and The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks, have been justifiably called tributes to the Golden Era mystery, and one quickly realises that it doesn't take place in some unspecified version of the 1930s, but specifically the 1930s of the detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Michael Innes, whose detectives, Wimsey, Alleyn and Appleby, are all mentioned in the story. Additionally, when a crime novel is mentioned, it isn't Agatha Christie who has written it, but her fictional author Ariadne Oliver.
I like this cover better!

This is the second in a series of three country house mysteries featuring Inspector Wilkins and the Earl of Burford and his family. The family are unlucky enough to have three separate homicides take place at Alderley, their country home, in a short period of time, and each is covered in one book. 

House-parties are a popular theme for creating interesting plots, not just in mysteries, but in romances and other kinds of novels, and this is no exception. In this volume, an impromptu house-party is formed when the Earl, who is an avid movie fan, invites an American film producer and a movie star to visit the estate to inspect it with a view of using it as the set for a film, at the same time the Countess has invited her cousin and her husband to visit, and their daughter has invited her two suitors with the intention of seeing them together and comparing them so she can decide which one to become engaged to. However, this is not the end to the arrivals: In the wake of the actor and producer there follow several uninvited visitors. Most of the guests are harbouring secrets of some sort and most are not what they seem.
I also like this one.

The characters range from fairly well-rounded to flat stereotypes.The Earl of Burford is a delightful, if somewhat eccentric gent, his wife is at first sight a typical formidable dragoness, but ends up showing unexpected qualities for the type. Their daughter is a typical bright young thing and it's interesting to follow the interplay between her and her two suitors. The guests are a typical country house mystery melange, and the detective is a refreshing change from the self-assured sleuths of the era. Personality-wise, Inspector Wilkins is the polar opposite of detectives like the arrogant Poirot and the self-assured Alleyn, being humble and self-deprecating, but he is just as able a case-solver as any of the three A's: Alleyn, Appleby and St. John Allgood of the Yard. The last one is a supremely arrogant ass who is sent in to investigate the crime and I don't think I'm tossing in too much of a spoiler when I say that he makes a fool of himself in the process, because one can see it coming as soon as the turns up. That debacle is one of the more obvious plot twists (along with another that is a perfect classic twist), but there are plenty of other twists, upon red herrings upon more twists, that should be hard enough to figure out to please any fan of twisty mysteries.

All in all, I found this to be a delightful and funny tribute to the Golden era mystery, and I will be on the lookout for the other two books.


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