8 February 2012

Review: THE POISONED CHOCOLATES CASE, Anthony Berkeley

  • originally published in 1929
  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 362 KB
  • Publisher: Langtail Press Limited (December 1, 2010)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004HW6ACO
Synopsis (Amazon)

ROGER SHERINGHAM'S MOST FAMOUS CASE. In 1920s London, six members of the Crime Circle set out to solve a murder that has baffled Scotland Yard.
Equipped with all of the facts, as told to them by Chief Inspector Moresby, club president Roger Sheringham and his armchair detectives pool their collective talents to formulate theories about the death of Mrs. Joan Bendix by nitrobenzene poisoning.
Over six successive nights, each member puts forward a plausible theory, but will any of them be able to reveal the truth?

My take

In addition to this being my contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books I am also "counting" it for one of my 2012 reading challenges: the Cherchez le Homme category of the  Vintage Mystery Challenge

THE POISONED CHOCOLATES CASE allows six detectives to take a case of death by poisoning and to place their own interpretation on the facts. As each presents his or her interpretation so the others, all except one, agree that this is the best interpretation and that the murderer has been uncovered.  They use of a variety of methods, both deductive and inductive, placing new interpretations on existing evidence, and conducting active investigation that brings new evidence to light. The agreement is that they will eventually present the correct answer to Scotland Yard, and indeed the answer they will present to Chief Inspector Moresby will differ from what he thinks has happened.

The novel floats the idea of a "detection club" similar to the one which Berkeley in fact brought into being the year after THE POISONED CHOCOLATES CASE was published.
    ROGER SHERINGHAM took a sip of the old brandy in front of him and leaned back in his chair at the head of the table. Through the haze of cigarette-smoke eager voices reached his ears from all directions, prattling joyfully upon this and that connected with murder, poisons and sudden death. For this was his own, his very own Crimes Circle, founded, organised, collected, and now run by himself alone; and when at the first meeting five months ago he had been unanimously elected its president, he had been as full of proud delight as on that never-to-be-forgotten day in the dim past when a cherub disguised as a publisher had accepted his first novel.
    It was the intention of the club to acquire eventually thirteen members, but so far only six had  succeeded in passing their tests, and these were all present on the evening when this chronicle opens. There was 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. With the exception of Mr.Chitterwick.
I found the novel a little dated but nevertheless interesting as the detectives basically used most of the common methods for deciding on who the murderer was. And as each of them  did, so I nodded in agreement with each explanation, so persuasive were they. One of the characters remarks on how difficult it is to contradict a thesis when it is presented so persuasively.

My rating: 4.3

About the author

Born 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 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.

The Presidents of The Detection Club
For more see Martin Edwards' website.

4 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - Interesting choice! There were several takes on the Detection Club motif during the Golden Age, I think. Good catch on this one.

Maria said...

Hi Kerrie--I know you're not into fantasy, but if you ever wanted to try a cozy fantasy, my short story Snitched, Snatched is a free download today and tomorrow only on Amazon for Kindle. It's in both Spanish and English and should be available to all countries.

:>)

There's a bit of a mystery to it, of course, but it probably qualifies more under action/adventure.

Best,
Maria

Janet Rudolph said...

Haven't read this in sooo long. I imagine I'd agree with you on its being dated, but the title and cover are worth the read!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for covering one of my favourite classic mystery novels. I guess that any book written over 80 years ago is bound to be dated, but I'd say that is part of the charm of this book - it's a window into a vanished world. And the plotting is extremely clever.

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