“Members of the Jury,” said Sir Andrew, rolling the phrase on his tongue to impart novelty to the commonplace, “you are called upon to-day to undertake one of the most serious duties, one of the gravest and most onerous responsibilities, that ever falls to the lot of the citizens of this country. You have been called to this Court to render a verdict upon a prisoner who stands charged with the capital offence. The issue is one of life and death.” Sir Andrew paused, seeking for that drama in silence that rarely grows in a row of words. There was a subdued groan in the Press box. All hopes for a fiery opening, for a sentence good enough to carry weight in the first editions had vanished. The prosecuting counsel had opened the Marlow case in the same words, then there was the Mrs. Arthur trial, and the Eastbourne murder, and the—— Why couldn’t the man think of something new?
That was delightful!
Ignore the horrible covers of this series of re-discovered Golden Age mysteries, they don’t do the books any justice. The only one that is still available with a great cover is Below the Clock, which to me really acted as a gateway drug to Amos Petrie. What can I say, I’m a sucker for a pretty cover.
Anyway, this was the first book in the series and it was just well-thought-out as the other two I’ve read, with a fabulous structure, great characters, and lots of twists.
Turner clearly read and took notes from some of the great mystery writers, and was not shy about it. In this one, we have direct references to “clouds of witnesses” and Peter Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes are both named in conversation!
What dampened my enthusiasm for this book slightly is only our main character – Amos Petrie. He’s really annoying in this first installment. I can’t decide whether this is because Turner wanted to make sure he created a memorable character or whether Turner was still looking for balance in how to make the story an “Amos Petrie” story while still telling a great tale.
Anyway, if I got annoyed with Miss Marple before for being an interfering old biddy, and with Miss Silver for her persistent fits of coughing, I got annoyed with Petrie, too – not so much for his constant references to fishing, but for his constant belittling of the police and some of the (mostly female) witnesses.
But then Petrie is very aware of his being annoying:
“Very good, sir. Would you care to ask those men a few questions yourself or are you going home?”
“My dear Ripple, I should find it physically impossible to go home while I had the opportunity of interfering in someone else’s business. If you haven’t got any gloves you’d better borrow mine while you pick up those bandages and oddments. Riley, you know, would have been a Superintendent by now if he had worn gloves when he carried Steiner’s suit-case to the Yard. You should always remember what happened to the unfortunate Riley. He would have made a bad fisherman.”
Ripple regarded the man with bewilderment.
Amos Petrie could do two things superbly well. He could say things that listeners failed to understand, and he could jump from subject to subject with the rapidity of a trapeze performer. Even while the Inspector gathered the equipment from the dressing-table Amos shot off at another tangent.