Ooooh, I do love the British Library Crime Classics. I've never heard of this author before, but the blurb sounds good with a body found on the stairwell of an Underground station.
Ooooh, I do love the British Library Crime Classics. I’ve never heard of this author before, but the blurb sounds good with a body found on the stairwell of an Underground station.
The story is set in 1934 and Miss Euphemia Pongleton lives at Frampton Private Hotel with other residents Mr Grange and Betty Watson and Cissie Fain and Mr Slocomb and Mrs Daymer and Mr Blend and Mr and Mrs Porter, with Mrs Bliss being the owner of the boarding hotel. Miss Pongleton’s nephew, Basil, lives nearby. I did chuckle at Basil deliberately buying a paper in order to ensure he has subjects to later talk to his aunt about. I’m also liking the methodical details of train times and stations, all that order is comforting. 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. I fear I sound a bit bloodthirsty but I’m a bit disappointed that the reader doesn’t see the finding of the body, it feels like we’ve missed out on potential clues.
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’ and ‘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. I wonder who our amateur detective is going to be.
I like the author’s way of describing the characters, ‘A casual visitor would have wondered…’ ‘A careful observer might have concluded…’, all very politely judgemental and a little detachedly observant, a nice touch. I also feel the author has an interesting way of not directly giving us some information but letting us kind of discover it afterwards just from a passing word, eg Mrs Daymer is debating about taking a particular seat in the drawing room but is too timid to do so and is then envious of Mr Slocomb who does take the seat, and it is then hinted at, a page later, that this was Miss Pongleton’s seat, also Mrs Bliss mentions identifying the body and the dog leash, but this is the first mention to the reader of the murder weapon even though it is stated that Miss Pongleton was strangled and Tuppy the dog has been spoken about, also the residents are often talking about a brooch and some knowledge regarding this that Miss Pongleton had over Bob, but this isn’t explained fully to the reader until page 28, and description of the body isn’t given until page 46. I feel like I have to pay attention and keep on my toes so as not to miss anything, as it won’t be spelt out to me.
The residents discuss the details of the brooch, being that Bob’s friends took him with them on a robbery as they needed someone who could drive a car, however he didn’t know it was a robbery and wasn’t involved in the planning of it at all, they gave him a brooch from the proceeds of the robbery, he gave this brooch to his girlfriend Nellie, Miss Pongleton then recognised the brooch from the items listed in the newspaper as stolen and said she was going to report it to the police. The brooch, sealed in an envelope with Bob’s name on, is found on the body. Hmmm, so it seems the motive wasn’t theft, with the brooch not being taken. The residents ask Nellie when the dog leash was last seen on the coat hanger at the house, Nellie says she saw it there the previous night but it wasn’t there that morning. It intrigues the residents why Miss Pongleton chose to use the stairwell at the station rather than the lift, and also why she’d used Belsize Park Station when Hampstead Heath Station is nearer the hotel. 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 this about her in order to know to find her there on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. I find it interesting to learn that the steps at Belsize Park Station are extremely deep, 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 love a diagram in a murder mystery book.
A police inspector turns up at Frampton Hotel and interviews each resident in turn. I’m presuming we aren’t going to follow the inspector’s investigations and surmises, as we’re not privy to the interviews and we don’t meet the police inspector either. I presume then that it’ll be an amateur detective we’ll follow but no-one seems apparent for this role as yet, unless it could be Blend with his collection of stories from the paper, this seems to show him as a person with an inquisitive mind and someone who would analyse things. Gerry Plasher arrives at Frampton Hotel, he is engaged to Beryl Sanders who is Miss Pongleton’s niece. Gerry says he saw Miss Pongleton on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station that morning as he’d had a bet with a friend how many steps there were at the station so took the stairwell that day to count them, he also says he spoke to Bob when he reached the bottom of the stairwell so knows Bob didn’t do the murder as Gerry says there wouldn’t have been time. Hmmm, Gerry comments on the not too nice nature of the stairwell in a passing comment to Slocomb, so does that mean he also saw Slocomb there? Betty appears to be going out with Basil.
Basil goes to Slocomb’s office asking for some advice, he says his aunt always had great faith in Slocomb. Hmmm, so there’s a connection between Miss Pongleton and Slocomb, with Slocomb perhaps privy to details of Miss Pongleton’s life and financial affairs. Basil says he feels he seems to be under suspicion and is being tailed by the police, Slocomb is annoyed that Basil has therefore come to his office with the police shadowing him as he says it could affect his business. Basil says he has concealed things from the police, namely that he found his aunt’s body in the stairwell at Belsize Park Station. Eeek, I didn’t expect that revelation! He’d had a letter from his aunt that morning saying she’d disinherited him after overhearing sarcastic comments he’d said about her to Betty in the hall, he says his aunt would regularly disinherit him. Slocomb asks when the letter was dated, as Basil says she had overheard him on the Wednesday and he received the letter on the Friday which is the day she was murdered, Basil can’t remember if the letter was dated Wednesday or Thursday and has now destroyed the letter but says he received it Friday morning. Oooh, is there something relevant in this, did something happen on the Wednesday evening to distract Miss Pongleton from writing the letter then? Basil said he was keen to put things right with his aunt and remembered his aunt was going to the dentist that morning so decided to catch 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 decided to run down the stairs to get the police and then stopped, considering if he’d be suspected, so just got on the next train coming into the station and then 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, to explain how he knew about his aunt’s death as he had read about it. He told the police he had spent the day with a friend and then went to the cinema and then dined alone. Slocomb says he will consider all this and meet Basil at his flat for lunch where they can discuss it further.
Hmmm, the chapter with Basil and Slocomb is very useful as to the information given and 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, I could imagine Slocomb’s uncomfortable tone in repeating these words which he’d never use himself. I also chuckled at Slocomb’s formal language in comparison to Basil’s, particularly when he describes Basil as leaving home with ‘unwonted promptitude’ compared to Basil’s description that he ‘hustled around no end’. I also laughed at Basil’s remark about Delia being ‘one of these red-haired women, quite unreliable’! I also liked when Slocomb suggests meeting Basil again early on Monday morning, to which Basil is horrified at the early hour, ‘But I say, that’s awful, nine o’clock!’.
Slocomb gets Basil to go through all his movements on the morning of the murder and also what he’s told various people about those movements, looking for inconsistencies that the police may pick up on. Basil’s one explanation he seems to have varied on is eating dinner that night, which he told his cousin Beryl was with a friend but told the police he was alone, Slocomb advises he 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. It also appears Basil’s landlady may have been aware of the letter Basil had received that morning 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. 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, also that 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 confirms that Mrs Bliss grew worried when Miss Pongleton didn’t arrive home for lunch so she phoned the dentist and learnt Miss Pongleton hadn’t come to her appointment, she then phoned Basil and was told by his landlady that he was out and that Miss Pongleton hadn’t been there that day, she went to Belsize Park Station and no-one said they’d seen Miss Pongleton so she phoned the police who found the body. Basil and Slocomb also puzzle about what Miss Pongleton was intending to do with the brooch in the envelope with Bob’s name on, Basil says it is strange she was carrying it about with her and especially in her pocket rather than her bag, as he remembered reading in the paper, and that she would surely have given it back to Nellie or given it to the police but appears to have done neither, Slocomb says she may not have wanted to leave it at the hotel where Nellie could have taken it back, and that she may have kept hold of it as she wanted Bob to assure her he would either take it to the police or take it back to its owner, but Basil doesn’t think his aunt would have been likely to give Bob a chance to redeem himself. Slocomb is also concerned when Basil mentions he had left his hat somewhere that day. I think however, looking back at the first chapter when Basil first appears, it is stated that his bowler hat is beside him on the train and this is presumably the second train as it is mentioned it is after ten o’clock and he is heading towards Golders Green Station, so from this it seems he didn’t leave the hat on the stairwell at Belsize Park Station.
I wonder if there is anything suspicious about Slocomb gathering all this information from Basil, is he guilty and setting up Basil, or guilty and needing to know if Basil may have seen him at the station, or is he our amateur detective and just being curious about times and movements? I then wonder why he’s not advising Basil to be honest to the police as this is surely Basil’s best protection, Slocomb surely can’t think Basil has the ingenuity and quick-thinking to give good believable lies under pressure to the police if they question him. I’m also interested to learn that Slocomb knew of Miss Pongleton’s appointment at the dentist as he had booked this 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 an ulterior motive with this, and Slocomb also asks Basil about the money Miss Pongleton had and her will. I like Basil now and can’t believe he did the murder, whereas when he first appeared in the first chapter he seemed quite a suspicious character with the hint from the author that his movements didn’t quite add up time-wise. I also can’t help liking Basil as he is a writer!
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 pointing upwards but have given no further details about this to the press. Bob’s colleagues say he isn’t a murderer, that he is too simple and quiet, and 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 with 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, that Basil had received a letter from his aunt that morning which he seemed annoyed at, that Basil dressed that morning as if he was going to see his aunt, that Basil had seen his painter friend Kutuzov that day, and that Basil is engaged to Betty. 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 he is expected to inherit her money, that Basil was distracted and upset that day when he visited them but that it was too early for Miss Pongleton’s death to have been reported so Delia thinks Basil must have had a premonition of her death, and that his shoes were covered in mud. There is a family tree included showing that Basil is from Grandad Pongleton’s first marriage, and Beryl from his second marriage. I’m not sure if this is supposed to tell us something.
Gerry and Beryl visit Basil at his flat, they pass Slocomb on the stairs and Basil tells them he was seeking Slocomb’s advice and that 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 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 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 almost slips up by mentioning how the body looked, quickly saving himself by saying he was going on the description in the newspaper, he 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 request that Beryl not mention what he had told her about dining with someone else on Friday after the cinema, by saying he was dining with a disreputable person so he had told the police that he had dined alone, Beryl and Gerry strongly advise him to tell the truth to the police and that the police would disregard the disreputable person anyway 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. I feel alarmed for Basil, he’s just making more difficulties for himself and will trip up over his own lies. I also wonder again why Slocomb hasn’t given the same sound advice to Basil about being honest with the police, as Beryl and Gerry have. Beryl says she doubted Slocomb’s motives towards Miss Pongleton, sometimes wondering if he was just after her money and was going to try and marry her. Beryl and Gerry drop in on Peter Kutuzov, he is out but Delia is there and she says again about Basil’s apparent premonition of his aunt’s death as he seemed upset before he could have heard about it, and also mentions Basil had asked them about his missing hat and that he is determined it must be at their house but Delia is certain it isn’t. 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 as it’s 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 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 goes to Betty and asks her to put back a pearl necklace of Miss Pongleton’s which he said she had given him and he’d meant to return but had forgotten, that it is a family heirloom and it would cause suspicion if it was missing from her things. Betty is reluctant, saying the police have already searched Miss Pongleton’s room so they would likely know the necklace hadn’t been there before, plus the police have locked the room. Basil therefore urges her to hide it 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 they went to the cinema on Thursday, explaining it as he had some private business to sort out Friday that he doesn’t want to tell the police about so he’d told them and Beryl that he was at the cinema on Friday. Beryl tells Basil he is making things unnecessarily complicated and messy. Oh dear, if I didn’t like Basil and feel assured of his innocence then I’d be suspicious of all of these lies, and it all seems worse with the pearl necklace, I am thinking he probably did steal this from his aunt being desperate for money, perhaps planning to pawn it to get him over a difficult patch and then redeem it and return it to his aunt’s things later.
Betty hides the necklace in Tuppy’s cushion which is kept in his basket, she writes a guarded note to Basil mentioning 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. I can’t help worrying that Betty will get into trouble with the police with all this, particularly if the police had already examined the cushion and decided it was empty. Beryl and Gerry arrive at Frampton Hotel after Betty has gone out to post the note to Basil, saying 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. Oh dear, this was obviously unexpected, though 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 discover the necklace in Tuppy’s cushion then they now know that Betty had Tuppy just before they took him so she’s a likely person to have concealed it there. Mrs Bliss asks Beryl if she had heard about Miss Pongleton’s will being found in her underwear drawer and mentions Miss Pongleton was often talking about remaking her will. Mrs Bliss asks who inherits, 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, Mrs Bliss thinks more of this later and where Mrs Pongleton could have hidden this later will. Oh dear, I’m thinking first of all that if Beryl actually inherits instead of Basil then that removes a motive for Basil which is good, however this could then be dangerous for Beryl if she is deemed to have a motive and particularly if the necklace is discovered in the cushion and how suspicious it might look with her collecting 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 one 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 in Coventry 30 years ago. Mrs Daymer is struck by the name of the man found guilty of this crime as being similar to someone they know, and 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, and asks Gerry to accompany her for safety and to have a witness. Gerry is agreeable to accompanying Mrs Daymer and is quite intrigued by it all, he also tells Mrs Daymer what Nellie said about a later will. Grrr, we don’t get to know the name of this dog strangler, I was thinking 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, 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, it’s tempting to think it’s Slocomb as I was already a little suspicious of him with his advice to Basil, plus Blend describes the name in the cutting as a ‘rum name’ and Mrs Daymer describes it as a ‘queer name’ implying it is an unusual name, but is it significant that Mrs Daymer hasn’t asked 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, I’d so love to be a writer, and I wonder if this is the method Hay uses to write her novels.
Beryl and Basil and Gerry are with Basil’s parents at Beryl’s mother’s house, they are talking about the pearls being missing which Beryl is due to inherit. I did find this section quite humorous with the chat between them all, I liked Basil’s line of ‘Betty knows what my “early” is’, and Mrs Pongleton ‘ignoring the last part of her husband’s remarks, as she often found it better to do’, and Beryl’s mother’s thinking that ‘the provision made for Tuppy…was not without its bearing on Mr Pongleton’s decision to take charge of the dog’, and also her view 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’, and also her questioning Bail if it was bad news in the note he receives as she knew this was ‘a tactful way of asking what was in the letter and who wrote it’. I noted there was also some talk by the Pongleton family about how Miss Pongleton acquired Tuppy as a valuable dog 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 receives Betty’s letter while with his relatives, and realises she has put the pearls in Tuppy’s cushion that is now there in the house with them. Basil therefore begins to suggest possible hiding places that his aunt may have put the pearls and suggests Tuppy’s cushion, 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 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 she spotted the pearls yesterday behind his mirror in his flat and asks him where they are now and what he plans to do, he admits they are in the cushion but that another hiding place is needed 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. He goes to Betty and asks her to now hide them in Miss Pongleton’s chair in the drawing room.
Basil’s landlady, Mrs Waddilove, talks to him about questions the police have asked her such as what time he left on Friday morning and if he had a hat with him and what this hat was like, and about the letter he received 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 also 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 as she has now realised that Basil had given her a false name and she’s also eager to be reimbursed for the fee of redeeming the pearls, she had learnt his real name when she saw his picture in the paper after his aunt’s murder. He manages to charm her and gives her an IOU for the pawnbroker fee.
Betty is pondering about Basil’s odd behaviour and him telling people different things about his whereabouts and who he was with, she decides that he perhaps knows who the murderer is and is trying to protect them for some reason, she then wonders who he would care about enough to want to protect and what the circumstances could be for him to do that, and concludes it could be Bob after Basil perhaps heard his aunt threatening and bullying Bob and perhaps Nellie too. She feels certain that Basil isn’t capable of crime or brutality but is likely to be capable of misplaced generosity and foolhardiness, but she is worried at how he could end up getting into trouble for protecting the criminal. I feel exactly the same myself about Basil, I am sure he’s not guilty of murder. She chats to Nellie who seems mysterious and states to Betty that she won’t tell, seeming to imply she knows something suspicious about 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 and cuddled her, she also suspects that if the police knew this then they would think he’d 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 it seems that Nellie probably saw them so knows Basil was in the hallway and if it means Bob can be let off if someone else is suspected then she could be understandably tempted to offer Basil to the police.
The residents are talking about the possible missing will that Miss Pongleton seems to have written on Wednesday evening. Mrs Bliss says the police are coming again that evening to talk to the residents about a letter which Miss Pongleton asked to be posted, Cissie 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 Basil would have got this letter on Friday morning and wonder if it told him about the newly written Wednesday will and that he was disinherited. Later that evening, Betty hides the pearls in Miss Pongleton’s old chair. I have a bad feeling about this action too, 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 enquires and they had arranged an identity parade, Basil didn’t recognise the first man looking at him and the others in the identity parade and this man didn’t seem to recognise Basil either, the second man was the ticket collector at Golders Green Station, though the ticket collector said he couldn’t be certain of what time Basil passed him, he also said Basil didn’t have a hat and Basil feels certain now that he must have left his hat on the train though he still tells the police he is certain he left it at Kutuzov’s house. Basil tells Slocomb that he used his idea of saying he had automatically bought a ticket for Hampstead Heath Station because this was something he did often, rather than buying a ticket to Golders Green Station. Basil tells Slocomb that the police measured his shoes, and that his landlady told him the police had looked at his shoes in his room. He also tells Slocomb that the police asked him if he went into Frampton Hotel hallway on Thursday evening, and Basil told them he had as he thought Betty probably would have told them the same. Oh dear, we know Betty didn’t tell the police that! Basil and Slocomb both presume this question is about 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, 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 left his flat on Friday morning. Basil asks Slocomb if he has destroyed the notebook he was using to jot down the details of what Basil had told him the other day, Slocomb says he may need to refer to it again but that the notes are harmless as they are just jottings of times of events but that the notebook will be destroyed as he doesn’t want it thought that he may have attempted to help Basil deceive the police. I find Slocomb quite entertaining with his dry humour, talking about bowler hats being ‘recklessly abandoned’ on trains, obviously quite unable to understand how Basil couldn’t have taken more care of his hat, telling him, when Basil says that misplacing a hat is something that could have happened to anyone, ‘I fear you underestimate the abnormality of your behaviour’.
It’s the day of the inquest and Gerry and Beryl slip out towards the end as he needs to catch his train to Coventry to accompany Mrs Daymer on her investigation, Beryl is dropping him at the station, he explains 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, that it is too vague a lead at the moment to tell the police about but that they will tell the police if it proves a useful lead. Two women outside the court recognise Gerry and his car, and report to the police that the car was behaving oddly yesterday and that Gerry was with a middle-aged woman then and that they both got out of the car and wrote in notebooks. The police inspector looks for Gerry to ask him more about this and is alarmed and suspicious that Gerry has disappeared so swiftly, he asks Beryl who can’t give him details of Gerry’s whereabouts. The police inspector decides to look more into Gerry’s movements and what time he arrived at work after he admitted being on the Belsize Park Station stairwell that morning and to see if the man, Jones, who failed to identify Basil as the man he saw near the stairwell at Belsize Park Station, may actually identify Gerry as this man. 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, and determines to look more into her too. Oh dear, Gerry has aroused suspicion now, and I like him as I like Basil, 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 owed to her in retrieving the pawned pearls, and many people notice them talking together. Beryl and Basil and Mr Pongleton go to Frampton Hotel to sort through Miss Pongleton’s things, the police inspector and Miss Pongleton’s solicitor are there also. Mr Pongleton gives the police inspector a bundle of his sister’s letters regarding investments, he mentions she was advised several times by Slocomb but that she didn’t act on this advice after consulting her brother. 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 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 to be re-strung. Hmmm, so at least Basil hadn’t stolen the pearls. Basil says he returned the pearls to his aunt on Wednesday and can’t think why she didn’t destroy the note then. Basil suggests his aunt may have hidden the pearls in the drawing room where she sat, Beryl backs him up, they all go to look and Basil suggests the police inspector try down the side of her chair, Beryl again backing him up. The police inspector finds the will down the side of the chair, and also the pearls. They look at the will written on Wednesday and signed by Bob and Nellie, it says the pearls currently with Basil to be re-strung are to be given to Beryl, £5000 is to go to Slocomb, a gold watch goes to Basil but nothing more due to ‘having incurred my great displeasure’, and the rest of the estate goes to Beryl. Oh dear, so it shows Basil hadn’t returned the pearls to her at the time she wrote the will on Wednesday, and it’s also intriguing about Slocomb inheriting and whether there is therefore a motive for him to kill Miss Pongleton. 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. He asks Betty to explain what she meant, she is vague and just says she meant that Miss Pongleton must have put the will there later after Bob and Nellie signed it. Hmmm, interesting what she said, is she right that someone put the will there after she put the pearls there, meaning someone had the will all this time. Slocomb arrives and tells the police inspector he can remember quite clearly now 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. Betty meanwhile whispers to Basil that he must tell the truth now. The police inspector asks Basil to accompany him to the police station.
Meanwhile, Gerry and Mrs Daymer are in Coventry, the landlady of the dog strangler is now dead so they visit her sister, Mrs Birtle. I found this interview quite humorous as Mrs Birtle extends words, such as saying torrentential instead of torrential. She says the young man’s name was Jonah Slocomb, and he used the fact the dog fell forward to aid him in strangling her. Omg, this is the same method as with Miss Pongleton, as her fall forward down the stairs aided the strangler, it must be Slocomb as the murderer then, how can it not be!!! Mrs Birtle says his name was spelt incorrectly in the newspaper as Sokam, and he later invested Mrs Birtle’s sister’s savings for her and then told her the investment had gone badly and her money was lost, and there were rumours he had done similar with other people’s money.
The police inspector is reviewing the evidence in his mind while travelling with Basil to the police station, 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 that had come from a different line and at a later time than he stated. Oh dear, Basil! The police inspector is beginning to wonder if all of them are in it together, Basil and Slocomb and Gerry and Mrs Daymer, and possibly Betty and Beryl too. He is puzzled about a footprint left at the bottom of the stairwell which is of a small foot. Omg, Mrs Birtle said Slocomb had small feet, ‘the smallest feet I ever saw on a man’! The police inspector wonders more about Slocomb now he has learnt he benefits from the will and with his explanation of being on a solitary walk before catching his train on the morning of the murder which is difficult to prove or disprove.
Oooh, Betty’s worked it all out and it points again to Slocomb! Betty is talking to Nellie and learns that she tried to take back the brooch from Miss Pongleton’s room the night before the murder so Bob could return it to its owner, but was discovered there by Miss Pongleton who told her that she had given the brooch to Slocomb for safe-keeping. Nellie also mentions 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 also remembers hearing someone go down to the hallway from inside the house the night before the murder, she presumed this was Betty as her bedroom is on the same corridor as Nellie’s but it wasn’t Betty and the girls realise Slocomb is the only other occupant of that corridor. Cissie also comes to 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 previously reported, but Cissie knows it wasn’t in her bag when Miss Pongleton 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, so the girls then conclude that the brooch must have been put into her bag by the murderer after he had killed her and that Slocomb had the brooch. The three girls all rush to the police station. Oooh, all the way through this section I was concerned that Slocomb would be in the building and intercept and kill one of the girls to stop them talking, particularly Nellie as she had to keep popping downstairs on household tasks!
Mrs Daymer and Gerry report their findings to the police, as do Betty and Cissie and Nellie. I liked the humorous scenes at the police station, namely Constable Waterton and his ‘vall-you-bull hinformation’, and Basil being interviewed and ‘the truth oozed from him in reluctant dribbles’, and Mrs Daymer being assertive with Constable Potts and him being ‘quite unable to cope with her’ and him hoping the inspector ‘might order her immediate arrest’ and Mrs Daymer later ‘overwhelming the inspector’s protests again and again’.
The inspector contacts Scotland Yard for information about Joseph Slocomb and Jonah Sokam, and he admits that Betty did well with extracting important information from Cissie and Nellie which he himself was unable to get from them. He goes to Frampton Hotel and arrests Slocomb infront of the other residents, Slocomb throws a notebook into the fire but Betty retrieves this. I do like the craftiness of the police in making the path to the police station wet so they then get Slocomb’s footprints when he walks through the water. They 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, and it later turns out that Mr Porter 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 inspector believes he was after Miss Pongleton’s money while she was alive, 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 he benefitted, and probably intended to embezzle Basil too after he had inherited her estate, and recognised the opportunity of the blame being put onto Bob with the brooch and 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. I do appreciate when authors ensure all the loose ends are tied up and every little bit is explained. They 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 that Basil is to have Miss Pongleton’s fortune as a wedding present, them all agreeing that Betty deserves this money.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I have another by Hay, ‘Death on the Cherwell’, which I may make my next British Library Crime Classic read. It’s a shame she apparently only wrote three murder mystery books. This one flowed well and all the facts gradually came out, with each character providing bits of the solution rather than there being one main amateur detective or the reader being privy to the police’s surmises, and there were some nice bits of humour in the book too.