Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay

Mavis Doriel Hay
Murder Underground

Ooooh, I do love the British Library Crime Classics series. I've never heard of this author before, but the blurb on the back of the book sounds very enticing with a body found on the stairwell of an Underground station...!

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay available on Amazon
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Ooooh, I do love the British Library Crime Classics Series. I’ve never heard of this author before, but the blurb on the back of the book sounds enticing with a body found on the stairwell of an Underground station…!

The story is set in 1934. Miss Euphemia Pongleton lives at Frampton Private Hotel, with other residents Mr Grange, Betty Watson, Cissie Fain, Mr Slocomb, Mrs Daymer, Mr Blend, and Mr and Mrs Porter, with Mrs Bliss being the owner of the boarding hotel. Miss Pongleton’s nephew, Basil, lives nearby and he is planning to meet his aunt that morning. The residents of Frampton Hotel (referred to by Cissie and Betty as The Frumps) return home to hear the news that Miss Pongleton has been found murdered on the stairwell of Belsize Park Underground Station on her way to a dentist’s appointment that morning. Bob Thurlow, boyfriend of Nellie, the maid at Frampton Hotel, has been arrested as Miss Pongleton had voiced a suspicion of him previously and he works at Belsize Park Station. Mrs Bliss is concerned with who will now look after Miss Pongleton’s dog, Tuppy. Hmmm, I fear I sound a bit bloodthirsty but I’m a bit disappointed that the reader didn’t see the finding of the body, it feels like we’ve missed out on potential clues. But I did chuckle at Basil deliberately buying a paper in order to ensure he had subjects to later talk to his aunt about. I’m also liking the methodical details of train times and stations, all that order is very comforting.

The residents all discuss the crime and Miss Pongleton and Bob. None of them seem to have particularly liked Miss Pongleton, she is described as ‘a hard woman…secretive…revengeful…loved a sense of power…loved to be in the know…inquisitive’. Mrs Daymer is a novelist and seems keen to study the crime. Mr Grange is uncomfortable with how they are all passing judgement so quickly on Miss Pongleton and on Bob, and how they all now believe they know so much about both of them. Mr Blend seems to like to make out he is knowledgeable about crimes and he cuts stories out from the newspaper. Hmmm, all of them seem quite happy pondering the crime and the victim and the arrested man, but there’s no indication yet as to who our amateur detective is going to be. I do like the author’s way of describing the characters though, using words such as ‘a casual visitor would have wondered…’, or ‘a careful observer might have concluded…’, before giving the description of the character, it makes it very politely judgemental and detached whilst also gently leading the reader to a particular view about them, which is a clever touch. I also feel the author has an unusual way of not directly giving the reader a particular bit of information but rather referring to it in a later passage or page or even chapter and often just from a passing word, which makes me feel like I have to pay full attention and keep on my toes so as not to miss anything as it won’t be spelt out to me by the author. One example of this is when Mrs Daymer was debating about taking a particular chair in the drawing room and was too timid to do so and it was then hinted a page later that this was Miss Pongleton’s chair, and another example being that Mrs Bliss mentioned identifying the body and the dog leash but this was the first mention to the reader of the murder weapon being the dog leash even though it was stated that Miss Pongleton was strangled and Tuppy the dog had been spoken about, and another example being that the residents were talking about a brooch and knowledge that Miss Pongleton had over Bob regarding this brooch but this wasn’t explained fully to the reader until page 28, and another example is even that the description of the body isn’t given until page 46. Hmmm, as I say, I feel I must pay attention!

The residents discuss the details of the brooch, and Bob and Miss Pongleton’s involvement with this, which contributed to Bob being arrested for Miss Pongleton’s murder. Bob’s friends had taken him with them on a robbery as they needed someone who could drive a car but Bob didn’t know it was a robbery and wasn’t involved in the planning of it at all, his friends gave him a brooch from the proceeds of the robbery and he gave this brooch to his girlfriend, Nellie, but Miss Pongleton recognised the brooch from the items listed in the newspaper as stolen and said she was going to report Bob to the police. The brooch, sealed in an envelope with Bob’s name on it, was found on Miss Pongleton’s dead body. The residents ask Nellie when the dog leash was last seen on the coat hanger at the house, and Nellie says she saw it there the previous night but that it wasn’t there that morning. It also intrigues the residents why Miss Pongleton chose to use the stairwell at the station rather than the lift and also why she had gone to Belsize Park Station when Hampstead Heath Station is nearer to the hotel, but Mrs Daymer tells them that Miss Pongleton was miserly so chose to save the penny and walk to the further station and that she had a horror of lifts. Hmmm, so someone must have had to know these facts about Miss Pongleton in order to know to find her there on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. I also found it interesting to learn that the steps at Belsize Park Station are extremely deep and only Hampstead Heath Station’s steps are deeper, and I’ve obviously now had to google pictures of the stairwell at Belsize Park Station, prompted by a diagram of the station in the book showing the steps in a lovely spiral. I do love a diagram in a murder mystery book! And so it seems that the motive for the murder probably wasn’t theft, with the brooch not being taken from the body.

A police inspector arrives at Frampton Hotel and interviews each resident in turn. Betty Watson is in a relationship with Basil. Gerry Plasher also arrives at Frampton Hotel, he is engaged to Beryl Sanders who is Miss Pongleton’s niece. Gerry says that he saw Miss Pongleton on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station that morning as he’d had a bet with a friend about how many steps there were at the station so he took the stairwell that day in order to count them, and he also says he spoke to Bob when he reached the bottom of the stairwell so he knows that Bob couldn’t have committed the murder as there wouldn’t have been time. Hmmm, so even though a police inspector has arrived, it seems like the reader isn’t going to follow his investigations and surmises as we’re not privy to the interviews and we don’t properly meet the police inspector either, therefore I am still presuming it’ll be an amateur detective that the reader will follow, but still no-one seems apparent for this amateur detective role as yet, unless it could be Blend with his collection of stories from the paper which seems to demonstrate he is a person with an inquisitive mind and someone who would analyse things. And Gerry mentioned in a passing comment to Slocomb about the unpleasant nature of the stairwell, so does that mean that Gerry also saw Slocomb there at the station or in the stairwell? 

Basil goes to Slocomb’s office asking for some advice, as he says his aunt always had great faith in Slocomb. Basil says he feels he is under suspicion and is being tailed by the police, and Slocomb is annoyed that Basil has therefore gone to his office with the police shadowing him as he says it could affect his business. Basil tells Slocomb that he has concealed things from the police, namely that he found his aunt’s body in the stairwell at Belsize Park Station! He explains that he’d received a letter from his aunt that morning saying she’d disinherited him after overhearing sarcastic comments he’d said about her in the hall to Betty. He says that his aunt would regularly disinherit him but he was still keen to put things right with her, and as he had remembered that his aunt was going to the dentist that morning, he decided to meet her at Belsize Park Station and apologise. He therefore got off the train at Belsize Park Station and as he couldn’t see her on the platform he walked up the stairwell to meet her, and found her dead on the steps. He said she was lying face down with her head down the stairs as if she’d tripped, so he tried to lift her up and then saw the dog leash around her neck. He says he immediately began to run down the stairs to get the police but then considered that he might be suspected of killing her. He therefore just got on the next train coming into the station and went to a friends’ house, Peter and Delia Kutuzov at Golders Green, and spent the day there. He got a paper on the way home in order to explain how he knew about his aunt’s death as he could then say he had read about it in the paper. He says he had told the police he had spent the day with a friend and then went to the cinema and then dined alone. Slocomb asks Basil what the date was on his aunt’s letter, as Basil had said that she overheard him on the Wednesday but he’d not received the letter until the Friday, which is the day she was murdered. Basil can’t remember if the letter was dated Wednesday or Thursday and he has now destroyed the letter, but says he definitely received it on Friday morning. Slocomb says he will consider all that Basil has told him and will meet him at his flat for lunch where they can discuss it further. Eeek, I didn’t expect that revelation from Basil, phew, that shocked me! And is there something relevant in the date of the letter, did something happen on the Wednesday evening to distract Miss Pongleton from writing the letter at that point? And I wonder if Slocomb was perhaps privy to details of Miss Pongleton’s life and financial affairs, with Basil saying that she had great faith in Slocomb. And as well as giving the reader lots of information, this section is also quite comical as Basil is quite Bertie Wooster-ish in his vagueness and flippancy, and Slocomb quite Jeeves-ish in his disapproval and exasperation of Basil’s carelessness about times. I particularly liked Slocomb repeating Basil’s description of himself ‘skulking’ and ‘skipping’ and ‘hopping’ about on the platforms, it being amusingly obvious that Slocomb was uncomfortable using these words as they were not in his usual vocabulary. I also chuckled at Slocomb’s formal language in comparison to Basil’s, particularly when he described Basil as leaving home with ‘unwonted promptitude’, compared to Basil’s description that he ‘hustled around no end’, tee hee! I also laughed when Slocomb suggested meeting Basil early on Monday morning and Basil was horrified at the early hour, ‘But I say, that’s awful, nine o’clock!’. 

The next day Slocomb meets with Basil to discuss things further. He asks Basil to go through all his movements on the morning of the murder and also what he’s told various people about those movements, so he can spot any inconsistencies that the police may pick up on. He learns that Basil had told his cousin Beryl Sanders that he had dined with a friend on the evening of the murder but he had told the police that he had dined alone, so Slocomb advises that Basil try and revise the explanation to Beryl by saying he was confused about the days due to the shock of reading in the paper about his aunt’s death. Slocomb also thinks that Basil’s landlady may be aware of the letter which Basil had received from his aunt, either by Basil mentioning something about it or the landlady recognising the writing on the envelope when she handed it to him. Hmmm, I think Basil’s biggest vulnerability is the two different trains he was on, as even though both went to Golders Green Station, he would have arrived there later because he’d first got off at Belsize Park Station, and also he’d originally bought a ticket for Hampstead Heath Station intending to visit his aunt at Frampton Hotel and then after finding the body decided to go further to Golders Green Station to see his friends which meant he didn’t have the correct ticket when he tried to exit at Golders Green Station and had to pay a fee which the ticket collector may well remember if the police question him. 

Basil tells Slocomb that he didn’t see Bob or Gerry at the station. Slocomb says he has learnt that Mrs Bliss had become worried when Miss Pongleton hadn’t come home for lunch so she had phoned the dentist and was told that Miss Pongleton hadn’t arrived for her appointment, so she then phoned Basil and was told by his landlady that he was out and that Miss Pongleton hadn’t been at Basil’s flat that day, so Mrs Bliss then went to Belsize Park Station asking if anyone had seen Miss Pongleton but no-one had, so she then phoned the police who found the body. Basil and Slocomb puzzle about what Miss Pongleton was intending to do with the brooch in the envelope with Bob’s name on, Basil saying it was strange that she was carrying it about with her, and especially carrying it in her pocket (as stated in the newspaper) rather than in her bag, as he wonders why she hadn’t given it back to Nellie or given it to the police. Slocomb suggests that she may not have wanted to leave the brooch at the hotel where Nellie could have taken it back, thereby removing Miss Pongleton’s evidence against Bob, and that she may have kept hold of it as she was perhaps hoping that Bob would promise he would either take it to the police or take it back to its owner. Basil, though, doesn’t think his aunt would have been likely to give Bob the chance to redeem himself. Slocomb is also concerned when Basil mentions he had left his hat somewhere that day and if he could have left it on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. Hmmm, looking back at the first chapter when Basil first appears, it is stated that his bowler hat is beside him on the train, so this is presumably the second train as it is mentioned that it is after ten o’clock and he is heading towards Golders Green Station, so it seems he didn’t leave the hat on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. And I wonder if there is anything suspicious about Slocomb gathering all this information from Basil. Could Slocomb be guilty and be trying to set Basil up? Or could he be guilty and needs to know if Basil may have seen him at the station? Or is he not guilty at all (!), and is going to be the amateur detective and so is just being curious about times and movements? But if the latter option, then I wonder why he’s not advising Basil to be honest and tell the police about finding his aunt’s body as this is surely Basil’s best protection, as Slocomb surely can’t think that Basil (bless him) has the ingenuity and quick-thinking to consistently provide believable lies under pressure to the police if they question him. And it’s also interesting that Slocomb knew of Miss Pongleton’s appointment at the dentist, as he had booked this appointment for her, so he knew where she’d be at what time. I also think Slocomb seems a little overly keen to minimise Basil’s surmises about what Miss Pongleton was doing with the brooch, so I wonder if Slocomb has some ulterior motive with this. Also, Slocomb asks Basil about Miss Pongleton’s money and her will. Hmmm, I seem to naturally be thinking of Slocomb as suspicious rather than as innocent and helpful. But I wonder if this is mostly because I like Basil now and can’t imagine that he is the murderer, whereas when he first appeared he seemed quite a suspicious character with the hint from the author that his movements didn’t quite add up time-wise. Basil is also a writer, so I feel I can’t help liking him!

The police and press think that the murderer must have gone up the stairwell from platform level to murder Miss Pongleton, rather than coming down from above, as the station staff would have noticed someone approaching the stairwell from above and they state they only saw Miss Pongleton and Gerry approach the stairwell that morning. The police have also reported finding a footprint on the steps below the body and this footprint points upwards, but the police haven’t released any further details of the footprint, such as size or what kind of shoe it was from. Bob’s colleagues state that he isn’t a murderer, mostly because he is too simple and quiet a person but also that it doesn’t make sense he’d murder Miss Pongleton because of the brooch as her death has now broadcasted all the details of the theft. A journalist comes to Basil’s building trying to speak to him but Basil has instructed his landlady to say he is too upset to talk. However, this means the journalist talks to the landlady instead who innocently tells him about Basil’s lost hat, and that Basil had received a letter from his aunt that morning which he seemed annoyed at, and that Basil dressed that morning as if he was going to see his aunt, and that Basil had seen his painter friend Kutuzov that day, and that Basil is engaged to Betty Watson who is another resident of the hotel where Miss Pongleton lived. The journalist then goes to the Kutuzov house and speaks to Peter’s wife Delia who innocently tells him that Miss Pongleton was well off and helped Basil a lot with money and that Basil is expected to inherit her money, and also adds that Basil was distracted and upset that day when he visited them but that it would have been too early for Miss Pongleton’s death to have been reported so Delia thinks Basil must have had a premonition of her death, and she also adds that his shoes were covered in mud. There is a family tree included in this section, showing that Basil is related to Grandad Pongleton’s first wife and Beryl Sanders is related to Grandad Pongleton’s second wife. Hmmm, I’m not sure if the fact that Basil and Beryl had different grandmothers is relevant? I can’t quite see how. And oh dear, Basil’s landlady and his friend Delia couldn’t have planted suspicion onto him any more if they’d tried!

Gerry and Beryl visit Basil at his flat, they pass Slocomb on the stairs and Basil explains that he was seeking Slocomb’s advice as his aunt rated him highly and he was a great friend of hers. They all discuss the case, speculating on Bob being guilty though none of them really think he did it and also can’t imagine why he didn’t take the brooch if this was the reason why he killed her. Basil speculates that Bob could have been disturbed by someone else on the stairwell and that this person could have discovered the body earlier than the police and not reported it as they didn’t want to be mixed up in it all, which both Gerry and Beryl protest at, saying that would be a foolish action as the police would discover the person had been there and then it would look suspicious why they hadn’t said anything. Gerry says he has arranged for his solicitors to help Bob, and he and Beryl are keen to find another motive for the murder which indicates another person. Beryl says the police have found Miss Pongleton’s will and that Basil inherits. Beryl says she herself didn’t want the money and would have given it to Basil anyway if she had inherited it. Basil begins to speak about how the body looked, but quickly saves himself by saying that he was going by the description in the newspaper. Basil also corrects himself when he talks about the cinema, firstly saying he went there Thursday and then remembering he was supposed to have gone Friday. He also tries to ask Beryl not to mention what he had told her about dining with someone else on Friday after the cinema, by explaining that he was dining with a disreputable person so he had told the police that he had dined alone, though Beryl and Gerry strongly advise him to tell the truth to the police about who he had dined with as they say the police would disregard the disreputable person as it has nothing to do with the case and it will avoid complications if they find out later. Beryl later says to Gerry that Basil was talking queerly and as if he had something to hide. Beryl also tells Gerry that she often doubted Slocomb’s motives towards Miss Pongleton and sometimes wondered if he was just after her money and was going to try and marry her. Beryl and Gerry then visit Peter Kutuzov, but he is out so they speak with Delia who tells them about Basil’s apparent premonition of his aunt’s death as he had seemed upset before he could have heard about it, and she also mentions that Basil had asked them about his missing hat as he was determined he must have left it at their house but Delia is certain it isn’t there. Omg, Basil is clearly hopeless at subterfuge and lies and thinking quickly, I feel alarmed for him, he’s just making more difficulties for himself and will trip up over his own lies, and I wonder again why Slocomb was encouraging him to do this rather than telling him to be honest with the police, as Beryl and Gerry have advised. And I was feeling ok about the hat when I realised it was on the train rather than on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station, but I’m now worried again thinking with it being on the second train then this would alert the police to the fact that Basil must have got off the first train for some reason. I also wonder if Beryl and Gerry will perhaps be our amateur detectives, although it is now page 118 so perhaps there will be no main amateur detective as such. 

Basil asks his girlfriend, Betty, to put in his aunt’s room a pearl necklace of his aunt’s which he says she had given him and he’d meant to return to her but had forgotten to do so, explaining that it is a family heirloom and it would cause suspicion if it was missing from her things. Betty is reluctant to do this, saying that the police have already searched Miss Pongleton’s room so they would likely know that the necklace hadn’t been there before, plus the police have locked the room. Basil therefore urges Betty to hide the necklace somewhere else in the house, saying his aunt was known for hiding things in secretive places, and that Betty is to let him know when and how she has disposed of it. He also urges her to tell no-one that they went to the cinema on Thursday, explaining that he had had some private business to sort out on the Friday which he doesn’t want to tell the police about so he’d instead told them that he and Beryl were at the cinema on the Friday. Beryl tells Basil that he is making things unnecessarily complicated and messy. Oh dear, yes indeed Basil is making things unnecessarily complicated and messy, I can just see it all falling down around his ears! And if I didn’t like Basil and felt assured of his innocence then I’d be suspicious of all of these lies, especially with the pearl necklace. Oh god, and regarding the necklace, I am thinking he probably did steal this from his aunt being desperate for money, probably planning to pawn it to get him over a difficult patch and then redeem it and return it to his aunt’s things later. But all that is going to look bad for him if it comes out, grrr, Basil, why must you be so silly?! And I worry for Betty becoming involved in all this too!

Betty hides the necklace in Tuppy’s cushion which is kept in his basket, and she writes a guarded note to Basil saying that she had Tuppy in her room last night and how much he adores his cushion, hoping Basil will understand what she’s trying to tell him. Beryl and Gerry arrive at Frampton Hotel after Betty has gone out to post the note to Basil, saying that Beryl’s Uncle James (who is also Basil’s father) has said he will take Tuppy back to Yorkshire with them. So they gather up Tuppy and his basket. Mrs Bliss mentions that Betty had Tuppy in her room last night. Mrs Bliss also asks Beryl if she had heard about Miss Pongleton’s will being found in her underwear drawer, and mentions that Miss Pongleton was often talking about re-making her will so she wonders if there is actually a later will to the one which was found. Mrs Bliss asks Beryl who was due to inherit, and Beryl replies that Basil inherits. Nellie overhears this conversation and states that last Wednesday Miss Pongleton asked her and Bob to sign a document which was concealed but that Bob thought was a will, and Mrs Bliss thinks this confirms that there is a later will still to be found and wonders where Mrs Pongleton could have hidden this later will. Oh no, now Tuppy and his cushion, with the pearl necklace inside, are going to Yorkshire! That did make me gasp, as it was obviously unexpected, and what will Betty and Basil do now?! Although maybe it doesn’t mean any more risk than if the cushion and its contents had stayed in Frampton Hotel, but if Beryl and Gerry happen to discover the necklace in Tuppy’s cushion, perhaps feeling something firm in there as they transport it, then they now know that Betty had Tuppy in her room just before they took him away so she’s a likely person to have concealed it there. And another oh no with the will and who could inherit with this later one! I thought first of all that if Beryl actually inherited instead of Basil then that removes a motive for Basil which is good for him, however this could then be dangerous for Beryl if she is deemed to have a motive for murdering Miss Pongleton in order to inherit her money, and particularly too if the necklace was then discovered in the cushion as it could look like she knew about the necklace being there as she recently collected Tuppy and the cushion and (unknowingly) the necklace! 

Blend is sorting through his scrapbooks of newspaper clippings of crimes, as he was reminded of one from long ago by the murder of Miss Pongleton. He finds the clipping he is looking for and remarks on it to Mrs Daymer, the clipping is about a young man strangling a dog with a dog lead 30 years ago in Coventry. Mrs Daymer is struck by the name of the man found guilty of this crime as being similar to someone they know, and so she determines to travel to Coventry to investigate further, under pretence of research for her next book, and to try to speak with the owner of the dog who was also the landlady of the guilty man and to see if she can find any connection with Miss Pongleton there. She asks Gerry to accompany her for safety and to have a witness, and Gerry agrees to this and is quite intrigued by it all. Gerry also tells Mrs Daymer what Nellie said about there being a later will. Grrr, why don’t we get to know the name of this dog strangler, which sounds a similar name to someone introduced in this case?! I was initially thinking that the only possible men involved are Gerry and Basil, but of course there are the men at the boarding house, Slocomb and Porter and Grange. I’m presuming it’s not Blend, as he wouldn’t have drawn attention to this earlier crime in the first place if he was the guilty person. And I presume it’s not Gerry, as Mrs Daymer wouldn’t have then shared her suspicions with him and asked for his help. Surely if it was Basil then the surname Pongleton would have struck Blend himself as well as it striking Mrs Daymer. It’s tempting therefore to think it’s Slocomb, as I was already a little suspicious of him with his advice to Basil, plus Blend described the name in the cutting as a ‘rum name’ and Mrs Daymer described it as a ‘queer name’ which surely implies that it is an unusual surname and Slocomb seems the most unusual surname compared with the fairly common surnames of Porter and Grange. But is it significant that Mrs Daymer didn’t ask Grange to accompany her, bearing in mind they were speculating about the crime in an earlier chapter so wouldn’t he be her natural choice of an investigating companion, unless it’s him as the possible guilty person she has in mind? I am also quite envious of Mrs Daymer’s ‘manuscript holder’ containing her drafts of plans for her next novel with lists of characters and notes on their psychology, what a wonderful collection of information and ideas this must be! I wonder if this is the method which Mavis Doriel Hay uses to write her novels.

Beryl and Gerry, with Basil and Basil’s parents, are at Beryl’s mother’s house. They are all talking about Miss Pongleton, and also about the pearls which they have now discovered are missing and they are annoyed about this as Beryl is due to inherit the pearls. Basil then receives Betty’s letter and realises that she had put the pearls in Tuppy’s cushion which is now there in the house with them. Basil therefore begins to suggest possible hiding places that his aunt may have used to hide the pearls, all of them knowing that she used to like to hide things. He then suggests Tuppy’s cushion as a possible hiding place, as he wishes for the pearls to be found. Beryl feels the cushion but it is well padded and she can’t feel any pearls inside. Gerry then says that the pearls can’t be in the cushion as the police had already searched Tuppy’s things. Basil and Beryl then leave the room under the pretence of putting Tuppy’s basket in Basil’s mother’s room. Beryl tells Basil that she had spotted the pearls yesterday behind his mirror in his flat. She asks him where they are now and what he plans to do, and he admits that the pearls are in the cushion and that another hiding place is needed for them now they’ve learnt the police have already searched Tuppy’s things. Beryl offers to help Basil if she can, but he says it is safer if she knows little about it all. Beryl removes the pearls from the cushion and gives them to Basil. Later, he asks Betty to now hide the pearls in Miss Pongleton’s chair in the drawing room. Omg, these pearls, it’s all getting so tense and so complicated! And Basil is being so hopeless about it all! I’m sure either Beryl or Betty could come up with lots of far more sensible plans, I can’t imagine why they are letting Basil handle this. And apart from the stress of the pearls and worrying about Basil and the potential damage he is doing to himself, I did find this section quite humorous with the chat between them all. I particularly liked Basil referring again to his struggle to get up at a decent time in the morning with him saying, ‘Betty knows what my “early” is’. And I chuckled at Basil’s mother ‘ignoring the last part of her husband’s remarks, as she often found it better to do’, tee hee. And I smiled at Beryl’s mother sarcastically thinking that ‘the provision made for Tuppy…was not without its bearing on Mr Pongleton’s decision to take charge of the dog’. And I also chuckled at Beryl’s mother’s opinion that ‘elaborate cakes were somehow not quite suitable for a family reunion in such tragic circumstances, a good fruit cake and some savoury sandwiches had been provided as more fitting’, how beautiful that there is an etiquette with cake and death! And I also admired her sneaky way of trying to find out what was in Basil’s note by asking if it was bad news, as she knew this method was ‘a tactful way of asking what was in the letter and who wrote it’. I think Beryl’s mother is a great character actually, with lots of funny comments, I hope we see more of her. I also noted that there was some talk by the Pongleton family about how Miss Pongleton acquired Tuppy, as he was given to her instead of payment of a debt from someone who owed her money, so I’m wondering if there is a connection between Miss Pongleton’s dog and the dog who was killed by the young man in Coventry.

Basil’s landlady talks to him about questions the police have asked her, such as what time he left on Friday morning, if he had a hat with him and what this hat was like, and about the letter he received on Friday morning, which she presumed was from his aunt though Basil tries to convince her it wasn’t from her. Mamie Hadden is waiting in Basil’s flat to see him, he had taken her to the cinema and asked her to pawn his aunt’s pearls and then hurriedly asked her to get the pearls back again from the pawnbroker. She is angry at him as she has seen his picture in the newspaper and now realises that Basil had given her a false name. She is also eager to be reimbursed for the fee of redeeming the pearls. He manages to charm her and gives her an IOU for the pawnbroker fee. Phew, I was worried that Basil was cheating on Betty then, but I am presuming he only took Mamie to the cinema in order to get her to pawn the pearls for him. This was obviously the reason he was wanting to conceal what he was doing that evening as he didn’t want it to come out that he had asked her to pawn the pearls. But omg, how complicated he has made things! To pawn the pearls in the first place, to ask Mamie to do this for him therefore meaning that she can tell on him to the police if she wishes, plus he has already offended Mamie by giving her a false name, sigh. I can see he obviously didn’t want his own name to be associated with the pawning of the pearls, but oh dear, oh dear, oh dear! And I wonder if the author intended for us to suspect Basil, with such important details of what he’d done and why, which have been concealed from us until far later in the book.

Betty is pondering about Basil’s odd behaviour and him telling people different things about his whereabouts and who he was with. She wonders if he perhaps knows who the murderer is and is trying to protect them for some reason, and she then wonders who he would care about enough to want to protect and what the circumstances could be for him to do that. She goes on to wonder if the murderer could actually be Bob, and Basil was trying to protect Bob because he had perhaps overheard his aunt threatening and bullying Bob and Nellie. She feels certain that Basil isn’t capable of crime or brutality, but she realises he is likely to be capable of misplaced generosity and foolhardiness and she is worried at how he could end up getting into trouble for protecting the criminal. She chats to Nellie, who seems to be acting mysteriously as well. Nellie assures Betty that she won’t tell, and Betty presumes that Nellie thinks she saw something suspicious regarding Betty or Basil on Thursday evening when Betty arrived home. Betty thinks back and realises that she’d automatically told the police that Basil had dropped her at the front door as usual after he’d taken her to the cinema, but she remembers now that he had stepped into the hallway and had kissed her, so she presumes Nellie saw this and thinks, as the police too would think, that Basil therefore had an opportunity to take the dog leash then. She decides it will cause less complication to just stick to her original story, as she feels sure Basil hasn’t said that he came into the hallway and she is certain he had no chance to take the leash then anyway. Oh dear, I’m not sure if this is wise, particularly as Nellie knew Basil was in the hallway and it’s in her interest for the police to have an alternative suspect to Bob, so I could understand her being tempted to offer Basil to the police. 

The residents are talking about the possible missing will which Miss Pongleton seems to have written on Wednesday evening. Mrs Bliss then tells them that the police are coming again that evening to talk to the residents about a letter which Miss Pongleton may have asked one of them to post for her. Cissie then announces that she now remembers that Miss Pongleton had asked her on Thursday morning to post a letter to Basil but she had forgotten so posted it on Thursday evening instead. The residents then immediately realise that Basil would have got this letter from Miss Pongleton on Friday morning, and they wonder if the letter was informing him about the later will written on Wednesday which disinherits him. Later that evening, Betty hides the pearls in Miss Pongleton’s old chair. Hmmm, surely it can only help Basil if it’s known that he was aware he had been disinherited as he then had no motive to kill his aunt. But I guess this later will hasn’t been found, so perhaps the police (and the residents) could think that Basil killed his aunt and then destroyed the later will, meaning the instructions in the earlier will are followed which states that he does inherit. Oh bother! And I have a bad feeling about Betty hiding the pearls in Miss Pongleton’s old chair, as Slocomb has been regularly sitting in that chair and I fear he will know they weren’t there previously and therefore when they were likely to have been put there. 

Basil updates Slocomb, he says the police asked him to go to the police station yesterday evening to help with enquiries and they had arranged an identity parade. Basil says he didn’t recognise the first man looking at them all in the line-up and this man didn’t seem to recognise Basil either, but the second man looking at the line-up was the ticket collector at Golders Green Station. Basil says that the ticket collector had recognised him but had told the police that he couldn’t be certain of what time Basil passed him, however he had also said that Basil didn’t have a hat. Basil feels certain now that he must have left his hat on the train, though he had told the police that he left it at Kutuzov’s house. Basil says that he used Slocomb’s suggestion of telling the police that he had automatically bought a ticket for Hampstead Heath Station because this was something he often did, instead of buying the correct ticket to Golders Green Station. Basil tells Slocomb that the police measured his shoes, and that his landlady had told him that the police had looked at his shoes in his room. Basil also says that the police asked him if he went into the hallway of Frampton Hotel on Thursday evening, and Basil had told them he had done so, as he thought Betty probably would have told them that. Basil and Slocomb both presume this question is regarding the police wondering if Basil could have taken the dog leash then, and Slocomb says he has thought more about the dog leash and thinks he noticed earlier in the evening that it was missing and will tell the police this. Basil says the police also asked about his aunt’s letter on Friday morning and he told them that he did receive it and that his aunt had said in it that she had made a new will and cut him out, and that he had destroyed the letter in annoyance but that he has no idea where the new will was put. He says the police questioned him again about what he did on Friday evening, so he gave more details of the film he had told them he watched, and they questioned him again about what time he had left his flat on Friday morning. Basil asks Slocomb to destroy the notebook which he was using to jot down the details of what Basil had told him the other day, but Slocomb explains that he may need to refer to some of the notes again but that these are harmless as they are just jottings of times of events, but he says he will later destroy the notebook as he doesn’t want it thought that he may have attempted to help Basil deceive the police. Oh dear, I feel Basil is putting himself into Slocomb’s hands here, as he is obviously telling the police things that Slocomb had advised him to say. I just wish we knew if Slocomb could be trusted or not. And of course, we know that Betty didn’t tell the police that Basil came into the hallway so the police are now aware of another inconsistency in what Basil has said. Oh god, I feel so tense with how Basil is unwittingly harming himself! But I do find Slocomb quite entertaining with his dry humour and how he and Basil are clearly such different characters with wildly different principles and priorities, it made me chuckle when Slocomb spoke about bowler hats being ‘recklessly abandoned’ on trains as he was obviously quite unable to understand how Basil couldn’t have taken more care of his hat, and when Basil said that misplacing a hat was something that could have happened to anyone, Slocomb said ‘I fear you underestimate the abnormality of your behaviour’, tee hee!

It’s the day of the inquest and Gerry and Beryl slip out towards the end as Gerry needs to catch his train to Coventry to accompany Mrs Daymer on her investigation, and Beryl is dropping him at the station. Gerry says to Beryl that he can’t give her full details of where he is going and with whom but says it is to do with investigating the murder, he explains that it is too vague a lead at the moment to tell her and the police about but that they will tell the police if it proves a useful lead. After Gerry and Betty have driven away, two women outside the court tell the police inspector that they recognised Gerry and his car as they saw the car and its occupants behaving oddly yesterday, that Gerry was with a middle-aged woman in the car yesterday and that they both got out of the car and wrote in notebooks. The police inspector then looks for Gerry in order to ask him more about this and is alarmed and suspicious that Gerry has disappeared so swiftly. Beryl has arrived back at the inquest after dropping off Gerry, so the police inspector asks her where Gerry has gone but she says she doesn’t know. The police inspector decides to look more into Gerry’s movements and to check on what time he arrived at work on the morning of the murder, and he wonders if Jones (the first man looking at Basil and the others in the line-up) would recognise Gerry as the man he saw near the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. The police inspector then learns that Mrs Daymer left Frampton Hotel on Monday morning and begins to wonder if she was the middle-aged woman that Gerry was with, so he determines to look more into her movements too. Oh dear, Gerry has aroused suspicion now, and I like him as I like Basil. In fact, I don’t know who I want to be the murderer really, as I like most of the characters. 

Mamie comes to speak to Basil at the court after the inquest, to remind him of the money he owes her for retrieving the pawned pearls, and many people notice them talking together. Later, Beryl and Basil and
Basil’s father go to Frampton Hotel to sort through Miss Pongleton’s things, and the police inspector and Miss Pongleton’s solicitor are also there at the hotel. Basil’s father gives the police inspector a bundle of his sister’s letters regarding investments, and he mentions that she was advised several times by Slocomb but that she then later consulted him as her brother so didn’t act on Slocomb’s advice. Beryl opens a little case and under a piece of cotton wadding in the lid she finds a piece of paper, she can see Basil’s name on this paper and is keen to conceal it from the police inspector but he has already seen her discover it. He takes the note and hands it to Basil telling him to read it. The note states that the pearls were entrusted to Basil three weeks ago in order to be re-strung. Basil tells them that he had returned the pearls to his aunt on Wednesday and he can’t think why she didn’t destroy the note then, he goes on to suggest that his aunt might have hidden the pearls in the drawing room where she sat, and Beryl backs him up with this suggestion. They all go to the drawing room to look for the pearls, and Basil suggests the police inspector tries looking down the side of her chair, and Beryl again backs him up with this suggestion. The police inspector then finds the will down the side of the chair, as well as the pearls! They look at the will, which was written on Wednesday and signed by Bob and Nellie, it states that the pearls which are currently with Basil to be re-strung are to be given to Beryl, £5000 is to go to Slocomb, a gold watch is to go to Basil but nothing more due to him ‘having incurred my great displeasure’, and the rest of her estate goes to Beryl. Phew, it’s all happening now, the will found and the pearls found! And I’m trying to take comfort in the fact that Basil hadn’t stolen the pearls from his aunt, as she had voluntarily given them to him for him to re-string them (although obviously he didn’t do this and pawned them instead, sigh!). And oh dear, it is also now obvious that Basil hadn’t returned the pearls to his aunt at the time she wrote the will on Wednesday, so it is going to be questioned how they ended up down the side of her chair. And it’s also intriguing about Slocomb inheriting money from Miss Pongleton’s will, that’s a surprise, and therefore surely a motive for him to kill her!

Slocomb arrives and tells the police inspector that he can now remember quite clearly that the dog leash wasn’t there on Thursday night, as he was heading out to post a letter at 10pm and looked for the leash wondering whether to take the dog with him but the leash wasn’t there so he presumed someone else was out with the dog. Slocomb said he then went to bed instead of going out to post his letter. Basil goes into the hallway to speak to Betty, and tells her of the finding of the pearls and the will. Betty says the will must have been put there later. The police inspector overhears her say this, so asks Betty to explain what she meant but she just says she meant that Miss Pongleton must have put the will there later after Bob and Nellie had signed it. Betty then whispers to Basil that he must tell the truth now. The police inspector then asks Basil to accompany him to the police station. Hmmm, interesting what Betty said about the will being put down the side of the chair after she put the pearls there, meaning that someone must have had the will all this time and they also must have access to Miss Pongleton’s chair. 

Meanwhile, Gerry and Mrs Daymer are in Coventry trying to speak to the landlady of the dog strangler, but they discover she is now dead so they visit her sister, Mrs Birtle. She says the young man’s name was Jonah Slocomb, and he used the fact the dog fell forward to aid him in strangling it, she adds that his name was spelt incorrectly in the newspaper at the time as Sokam, and she also adds that he later invested his landlady’s savings for her and then told her the investment had gone badly and her money was lost, but there were rumours later that he had invested other people’s money similarly and had just stolen the money. Gerry and Mrs Daymer head back to report all this to the police. Omg, Slocomb, it is Slocomb who is the murderer! And the similar surname that Blend and Mrs Daymer saw in the paper which made them think it was similar to someone they knew (as the name was spelt incorrectly, which was a bit mean, I thought, even though we didn’t get to see this surname) was Sokam! And this is the same method of killing as was used with Miss Pongleton, as her falling forward down the stairs aided the strangler. However, this is all quite a fluke really with Blend remembering this case of the dog strangler from long ago and having kept the newspaper clipping, hmmm, it seems like this wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise so I’m thinking this is a bit of a stretch and not really quite the tight plotline I’d have expected. But as well as everything being discovered and almost solved, I also found this interview quite humorous with how Mrs Birtle extends her words, such as saying ‘torrentential’ instead of torrential, tee hee.

Meanwhile, the police inspector is reviewing the evidence in his mind while travelling with Basil to the police station, as they have found Basil’s fingerprints on the stair-rail at Belsize Park Station, and they also know about his meetings with Slocomb, and they have found his hat on a train which had travelled from a different line and at a later time than he stated, but he is still puzzled about a footprint left at the bottom of the stairwell which is from a small foot and which doesn’t fit Basil’s feet. The police inspector begins to wonder if all of them are in it together, Basil and Slocomb and Gerry and Mrs Daymer, and possibly Betty and Beryl too, and he particularly thinks more about Slocomb now it has been learnt that he benefits from Miss Pongleton’s will and he remembers that Slocomb had stated that he had gone for a walk on his own on the morning of the murder before catching his train, which is difficult to prove or disprove. Omg, Mrs Birtle said that Slocomb had small feet, ‘the smallest feet I ever saw on a man’! It’s closing in on Slocomb now! And maybe the police inspector would have discovered Slocomb’s guilt anyway, he seems suspicious of him, so perhaps the fluke of Blend having the newspaper clipping wasn’t the only way in which Slocomb would have been discovered, so I was a bit quick to criticise the looseness of the plotline there!

Meanwhile, Betty is talking to Nellie who says that she had tried to take the brooch from Miss Pongleton’s room the night before the murder so Bob could return it to its owner, but she was discovered by Miss Pongleton who told her that she had given the brooch to Slocomb for safe-keeping. Nellie also mentions to Beryl that Miss Pongleton had told her that Slocomb had made the dentist appointment for her at 10am though she had asked him to make it for 11am. Nellie says she also now remembers hearing someone go down to the hallway from inside the house the night before the murder and she had presumed this was Betty as her bedroom is on the same corridor as Nellie’s, but Betty says it wasn’t her so they then realise that Slocomb is the only other occupant of that corridor so it must have been him going down to the hallway. Cissie then also seeks out Betty, as she’s read in the paper reporting on the inquest that the brooch was found in Miss Pongleton’s bag, not in her pocket as was previously reported, however Cissie knows that the brooch wasn’t in Miss Pongleton’s bag when she left Frampton Hotel on the morning of her murder as she had accidentally tipped over her bag and asked Cissie to help her pick everything up and the brooch wasn’t one of the items. The girls then conclude that the brooch must have been put into her bag by the murderer after he had killed her, and they remember that Slocomb had the brooch. Betty and Cissie and Nellie all rush to the police station. Oooh, all the way through this section I was concerned that Slocomb would be nearby listening and would intercept and kill one of the girls to stop them talking, particularly Nellie as she had to keep popping downstairs on household tasks! And this is all coming together beautifully now, but I’m thinking there are several things that are only just being revealed now (such as Nellie’s information about the brooch being with Slocomb and him making the dentist appointment for a different time than Miss Pongleton had asked him to make it for, and that the newspaper reported incorrectly that the brooch was found in Miss Pongleton’s pocket) so that’s a bit frustrating as it feels like we couldn’t have correctly guessed the solution without these important details which were sneakily withheld from us by the author!

Mrs Daymer and Gerry report their findings to the police inspector, as do Betty and Cissie and Nellie. The police inspector contacts Scotland Yard for information about Joseph Slocomb and Jonah Sokam, and he admits that Betty did well extracting important information from Cissie and Nellie which he himself was unable to get from them. Tee hee, again within the tying up of the case, it was a humorous scene at the police station with Constable Waterton and his words ‘vall-you-bull hinformation’. And also Mrs Daymer being very assertive with Constable Potts and him being ‘quite unable to cope with her’ and hoping the inspector ‘might order her immediate arrest’, and then again later with Mrs Daymer ‘overwhelming the inspector’s protests again and again’. And I also chuckled when Basil was being interviewed with ‘the truth oozed from him in reluctant dribbles’. 

The police inspector goes to Frampton Hotel and arrests Slocomb, infront of the other residents. Slocomb tries to throw a notebook into the fire but Betty swiftly grabs this. When they arrive at the police station with Slocomb, they manage to get his footprints by having previously made the path wet so he can’t help but leave footprints when he walks through the water. The police also have Jones from the train station waiting in the police station and he immediately recognises Slocomb as the man near the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. Later, Porter remembers he saw Slocomb in the hallway at Frampton Hotel the night before the murder, and Slocomb’s notebook reveals timings that he had jotted down about the murder and people’s movements including his own. The police inspector believes Slocomb was after Miss Pongleton’s money so persuaded her to leave him a substantial legacy in her will and offered to keep the will safe for her and then tucked this will down the side of her chair after he had checked it to ensure that he benefitted, and that he probably intended to embezzle Basil too after he had inherited his aunt’s money, and that he saw the opportunity to put the blame on Bob with the brooch and with him working at that station so planted the brooch in Miss Pongleton’s bag in order to direct attention to Bob. The residents go through things in great depth afterwards, and also discuss the news that Bob is to be gardener at Mr Pongleton’s house in Yorkshire, with Nellie to be housemaid there until she and Bob marry, and also that Basil is to have Miss Pongleton’s fortune as a wedding present with them all agreeing that Betty deserves this money. Oooh, that’s all nicely tied up then and all the loose-ends explained with the residents discussing it all afterwards, I do very much appreciate it when authors ensure every little bit is explained. And I did like the craftiness of the police with making the path wet in order to get Slocomb’s footprints, very clever!

I really enjoyed this book, it flowed well and all the facts gradually came out and were thoroughly explained (even though I think the author was a little sneaky in withholding certain important information from us!), and there were some nice bits of humour in the book too. It was unusual with having no amateur detective or the reader being privy to the police’s surmises though, it was instead just that each character provided bits of the solution. I see this author apparently only wrote three murder mystery books, which is a shame as I’d have happily read many more of hers and I see all three have been republished by British Library Crime Classics so I’d take that to mean that they rate her highly too. I already have another one by Mavis Doriel Hay on my bookshelf waiting to be read, Death on the Cherwell, so I will look forward to that, and her other book is The Santa Klaus Murder which sounds like a perfect Christmas read, and I’ll be interested to see if these are in the same style with no amateur detective or police inspector giving the information to the reader. And (as I seem often to say) I do adore these British Library Crime Classic books and have several saved up on my bookshelves to read so I really don’t need to buy any more until I’ve read the ones I’ve got but…whilst looking for other books by Mavis Doriel Hay these three other British Library Crime Classic books jumped out at me just from the intriguing titles alone as they sound wonderful, tee hee, Death of an Author by ECR Lorac, and He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr, and Fear Stalks the Village by Ethel Lina White! I also liked the way that Basil and Slocomb seemed a little like Jeeves and Wooster, which put those wonderful books by PG Wodehouse in my mind so I can’t resist re-reading one of those, The Code of the Woosters being one of my favourites and which actually makes me laugh out loud (embarrassingly when I’m on a train!). 

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay available on Amazon
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