The Case of the Canterfell Codicil is a classic, cosy, locked-room mystery written in the style of an homage to PG Wodehouse. The result, for those familiar with Wodehouse or Jerome K Jerome and Agatha Christie or Dorothy L Sayers, is either an inexcusable offence to several beloved canons, or a hilarious, fast-paced, manor house murder mystery.
Below are some excerpts from The Case of the Canterfell Codicil.
The Enigmatic Encounter on the 16:42 from Charing Cross
In this excerpt from chapter one, immediately upon receipt of an urgent telegram, our sleuth, Anty Boisjoly, has leapt aboard the train bound for the town of Fray. While on board, he falls into conversation with a mysterious stranger…
“What is it that you do, Mister Boisjoly?” asked Ivor.
“Do? I flit, mainly, between club and theatre. I’m what the French would call a flaneur, if they knew me.”
“So you’re not a mortician then.”
“A mortician?” I said. “No, hardly. I gave a famously moving eulogy at my father’s funeral last year, parts of which were printed in the Times. They left out the funniest lines, in my view, but that’s modern journalism for you. And that’s the closest I’ve come to that noble undertaking, if you’ll forgive the pun.”
“A notary of some sort? Probate attorney?”
“Ah, I see what you’re driving at,” I said, the mists clearing. “No, I’ve been asked to look in because there’s apparently something quite peculiar in the manner of the passing of Sebastian Canterfell.”
“Oh, I see,” said Ivor. “You’re a police officer.”
“Oh my dear lord no,” I scoffed. “Not at all. Too much regard for my fellow man, I think. But I do enjoy a modest reputation among my kin and kind as something of a problem-solver. The one to whom they turn in times of turmoil. The Alexander to their Gordian knots.”
“Including death under mysterious circumstances?”
“Not as a rule, no,” I confessed. “Usually more matters of the heart, domestic disputes, that sort of thing. Did you read of the engagement earlier this year of Elspeth Finch-Epping to Milton Entwhistle Hardy?”
“No? Well, you never would, either, had I not intervened when Milton — we called him Melting at school, obviously — when Milton was sued for breach of promise by a music-hall performer who went by the stage name of Iva Gudden, if you will.”
“Bought her off, did you?” said Ivor, as though the practice of buying off music-hall singers was a late omen of the fall of man.
“Hardly,” I said. “No, I proposed to Miss Gudden myself.”
“Didn’t that just transfer the problem to you?”
“A problem shared is a problem halved,” I said. “Or, in this instance, divided by eleven, the sum total of all the men to whom Miss Gudden was engaged. When she sued me, too, for breach of promise, I was able to establish to the satisfaction of Elspeth and, above all, her mother, that Melting was the victim of a serial confidence trickster.”
“So, this will be your first murder.”
The Perplexing Path of the Forgetful Footman
In this excerpt from chapter two Anty Boisjoly encounters his old friend Fiddles in the conservatory… Anty suggests that Fiddles appears to be in an uncharacteristically whimsical mood…
“I don’t know what you mean, old man.”
“I mean, Fiddles, that it’s unlike you to concern yourself with life’s fancies. I vividly recall, when offered a rare private viewing of Uccelo’s A Hunt In the Forest, you asking the rector what it would fetch at open auction.”
“I still wonder about that.”
“And yet I’m not here two minutes before you’re making rash allegations about the local wildlife,” I said. “If you’re not mourning your uncle — and if I didn’t know you to be a rank utilitarian with all the whimsy of a felled tree — I’d say that you were displaying the symptoms of having tripped head-over-teakettle for something with ruby lips and a native talent for twirling parasols.”
“You know, you grow increasingly detached from reality in your declining years, Anty,” said Fiddles. “Speaking frankly, it saddens me to see it.”
“As you wish, Fiddles,” I effected to concede. “Let’s speak of happier things, then — what happened to Uncle Sebastian?”
“Ah, well, that’s why you’re here, Anty,” said Fiddles. “Nobody knows.”
“You knew this morning, Fiddles old man. He was thrown out a window.”
“Exactly so,” confirmed Fiddles. “The problem is that it’s not possible. When last seen — alive, at any rate — he was in his study. Some time later a commotion is heard, shouting and whatnot, and then the unmistakable ‘AAAAAaaaaaaa….. thack!’ of an uncle falling from a great height.”
“Doubtless a tremendous nuisance,” I observed, “but hardly impossible. It’s happened to better men.”
“By a considerable margin, yes,” agreed Fiddles. “But you know the study. It’s on the second floor, back of the tower. One door, one window, leading to a sheer drop. The tower was designed and built to resist the Norman hordes. The only way in or out is through the door.”
“And the door was locked, Anty, from the inside.”
The Continuing Consequences of the Norman Conquest
In this excerpt from chapter ten, our hero visits the bucolic village of Fray and encounters a suspect — the Honourable Member for Fray and brother of the deceased, Halliwell Canterfell. As this excerpt begins, the Honourable Member has recalled that he knew Anty’s late father…
“Neither,” I answered. “Papa fell under an electric tram by Wormwood Scrubs.”
“Poor chap,” sympathised Halliwell. “They always get you.”
“Well, at least he died doing what he loved most — stumbling drunkenly about Shepherd’s Bush.” I took the liberty of a patch of grass next to the tea tray. “Talking of foreshortened journeys, I take it you know that there’s been an unfortunate turn of events at Canterfell Hall.”
The honourable member nodded. “Sebastian’s been thrown out a window,” he said. “What an extraordinary thing. There must be a dozen easier ways to kill a man. I think, had it been me, I’d have poisoned him. Or run him through with one of Father’s swords. Or simply hit him over the head with something. A paving stone, for instance. Yes, a paving stone would serve very nicely.”
“It’s human nature to over-complicate simple things,” I said. “Might I ask why you’re here, Mister Canterfell?”
“Constituency business,” he said. “Meet the voters, count the badgers — makes a break from the affairs of the nation.”
“Of course,” I sympathised. “But I meant, why are you staying at the inn, rather than at Canterfell Hall?”
“Don’t much care for Canterfell Hall, in point of fact,” he said. “Far too many Canterfells for my liking. How did you know I was here?”
“You were bending the ear last night of one Inspector Wittersham. He was very interested in your views regarding Edmund Ironside.”
“To the one true king,” said Halliwell, raising his teacup in a toast.
“Hear, hear,” I said, narrowly avoiding a charge of sedition by not actually raising a cup. “I think the inspector’s going to want to have a few words with you about what happened to your brother.”
“I’m not sure that would be wise,” said the honourable member, adding in a lower tone, “We didn’t really get along, Sebastian and I.”
“I expect that’ll be the sort of thing the inspector would want to discuss,” I suggested. “However, an examination of the scene of the crime indicates that the assassin wanted something.”
“Yes. He wanted to throw Sebastian out a window.”
“I mean, something else.”
“You don’t think that’s enough?”
The Suspicious Circumstance of the Sealed Study
In this excerpt from chapter eleven, Anty discovers the connection between an amateur love poem and a motive for murder…
“It’s worse than I’d imagined,” I said. “And I was imagining something in which butterflies and buttercups featured prominently.”
“I know,” agreed Hal. “We don’t speak of it.”
“Sound policy,” I said. “You’re quite sure that’s how it goes, ‘…my heart’s begun’?”
“Quite sure,” said Hal. “That phrase in particular has a certain tenacity.”
I brooded on this at some length. I was unsurprised by the inventory of inspirations — the muses and Melpomenes and what-have-you — but I found the lyric disappointingly short on concrete information.
Then I realised that I had the wrong end of the wicket, and the identity hidden behind the painting was not that of Melpomene, but of the mysterious ‘my’. And then I said “Ah, Vickers,” because Vickers had just entered, stage left.
“Good afternoon, sir,” said Vickers, with what I’m sure was a twinkle of recognition. It was quite moving.
“Vickers, we’re going to organise a tray of drinks in the conservatory,” I said. “And when we’ve done that, would you be so good as to invite the inspector, Mister Fairfax, and Mrs. Canterfell to join me there.”
“Very good, sir,” said Vickers. “I rather expect that the inspector will insist on some justification.”
“Yes, of course, Vickers. Tell him that I’ve solved the murder of Sebastian Canterfell.”