The Polferry Riddle – Philip MacDonald (1931)

The Polferry Riddle opens in a seaside home enveloped by a powerful storm.  As wind shakes the house and rain lashes the windows, three men drink by the fireside while the rest of the inhabitants lay asleep upstairs.  As they head up for the night, the men stumble upon a gruesome scene: the lady of the house lies halfway off her bed, her throat slit from ear to ear.

It’s a powerful opening, and my love of a good storm had me wrapped fully into the scene.  And I remained wrapped throughout an ever shifting romp of a plot that’s the sort where you breathlessly look back at some point and think “boy, we’re miles from where we started.”  Which is a bit unfortunate, because The Polferry Riddle must feature one of the biggest let downs of a solution that I can think of.  And yet I’m still going to tell you that I really loved this book.

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The List of Adrian Messenger – Philip MacDonald (1959)

ListOfAdrianMessenger“It will hold you breathless until you have reached its utterly unpredictable climax.”  “Do not look at the end!”  “The dramatic, utterly surprising final chapters of The List of Adrian Messenger will haunt you long after you’ve finished this unique novel.”  Thus blares the large text plastering the front and back cover of my 1961 Bantam Books edition of The List of Adrian Messenger.

As much as The Maze by Philip MacDonald didn’t do it for me, I’ve been intent to come back to the author.  Recognizing that The Maze was more an experiment in conveying a mystery purely through raw court testimony, I was interested in seeing what MacDonald could do in the more traditional form.  I’m not sure how The List of Adrian Messenger worked its way into my mind as one I should try, but here I am.

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The Maze – Philip MacDonald (1932)

TheMazeI’m a sucker for the idea of a murder occurring within a maze.  I suppose I’ll have to wait for John Dickson Carr’s All in a Maze or Murder in the Maze by JJ Connington to actually experience one.  Philip MacDonald’s The Maze is more of the abstract kind, referring to the task of sifting through the testimony presented at an inquest.  His idea is an interesting one.  Most mystery novels would have us observe the investigation from the point of view of a character, taking in the setting, cast, and mannerisms, sprinkled with private observations.  What if you stripped all of that away from a detective novel?  What if you left the reader purely with the evidence of the case?

MacDonald makes a statement in his introduction that this would put you on a level playing field with the detective.  You would have access to every last drop of information that the investigators have – no more, no less.  Could you solve the crime?

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