The Old Man in the Corner: The Teahouse Detective by Baroness Orczy

Baroness Orczy
The Old Man in the Corner: The Teahouse Detective

I was excited to read this as I loved Baroness Orzy’s Scarlet Pimpernel tales, so had high hopes for her detective series. It’s short stories, whereas I usually prefer full-length novels, but I was still really interested in reading it, and I always love a detective story.

The Old Man in the Corner: The Teahouse Detective by Baroness Orczy available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

I was excited to read this as I loved Baroness Orzy’s Scarlet Pimpernel tales, so had high hopes for her detective series. It’s short stories, whereas I usually prefer full-length novels, but I was still really interested in reading it, and I always love a detective story.

I’m finding it quite Sherlock Homes-like, with the man/detective in the teahouse discovering the solution by observations which have escaped everyone else. It is quite amusing to read, and there are a few unusual twists and differences from the usual detective series, such as the man not introducing himself so his identity being a mystery to his listener, Polly Burton, and the reader, and another difference being that there is seemingly no plan or intention of bringing any of the guilty people to justice, as the man just seems to like to exercise his mind on a problem and to demonstrate his solution and intelligence to Polly.

Polly is a journalist and she is fascinated by this man and turns up regularly at the teahouse in the hope of seeing him there. He discusses crime stories in the press with her, having gone along to the relevant court cases and inquests himself, and he then relates these crime stories in great detail to Polly, also presenting photos of the prime people involved and setting the scene of the mystery, and then gives the solution. She doesn’t appear to report these solutions in her paper though, and the man doesn’t seem to desire to bring the guilty person to justice. He also constantly fiddles with a bit of string, tying knots in it, and this seems related to the solutions he details, this bit of string seeming to be his ‘thing’ (like Sherlock’s deerstalker hat or Morse’s Jaguar car).

Hmmm, this book didn’t really grab me in the end. I found it frustrating that we don’t learn much about the main two characters so I didn’t feel invested in them, and also I didn’t like their interaction with each other as he is quite arrogant and scornful and lectures her, and she is unassertive and passive and barely says anything apart from “Yes, but…”, and then being interrupted by him. The stories are also over so quickly with only two or three people featured, so you know one of these must be the guilty person, and because the stories are so quick to read I found I didn’t remember each story after I’d finished it. Each story is also told from only the teahouse man’s point of view and recollection of the details, and even though he often quotes the characters’ speeches, these are so long and detailed that it seemed unrealistic to me that he would remember these word for word, so I ended up questioning him a little in my mind. And I couldn’t help feeling unsatisfied that the guilty person is never brought to justice and that the solution is just an unprovable theory of his that she doesn’t even publish, I can see that’s a different and interesting twist on the traditional form of criminal discovered and punished but it felt a bit unfinished to me. And I did love it being set in a teahouse, being a lover of little tearooms myself!

I must give credit for the ending as it was a surprising twist which I never saw coming, it being that the man is actually himself guilty of the final murder detailed! However, I ended up feeling a little dissatisfied with even that final story, as I can’t imagine him being a money-grasping nephew who cleans the whole house in the guise of his aunt who he had helped to kill, and if he is guilty it almost seems like he did it just to prove he can be as clever as the other criminals and can baffle the police, so he killed his aunt really to boost his ego. I also would have thought him being guilty then must surely end his conversations with Polly and so therefore bring an end to the books, but apparently there are two more books. Maybe I raced through the stories too quickly and there is more to the book than was apparent on my first read, but I just ended up feeling dissatisfied throughout most of it. I have promised myself I will give it another try though, and see if it improves on a second read. I see the next in the series is The Case of Miss Elliott, and the third one is Unravelled Knots so I will also get those books as well (being unable to resist owning all the books in a series!) to see if they grab me a bit more. But as I loved her writing in The Scarlet Pimpernel series, I feel I must dip into the first book of that series again, one of my favourite recent reads. And as this book reminded me of Sherlock Holmes and it seems to have been ages since I’ve read any of his books, I am tempted to now re-read the first one, A Study in Scarlet.

The Old Man in the Corner: The Teahouse Detective by Baroness Orczy available on Amazon
 Kindle  Hardback
 Paperback  Audiobook

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