first name we never do learn) is a young gentleman of leisure who lives with
his aunt in a comfortable house in the Bayswater. They have at least two daily
rituals – after dinner, he reads a murder mystery aloud to his aunt. When they’re
finished and she retires, he takes a short walk before returning home and going
One evening, the
reading finished, he chides his aunt as to her preference for mystery stories
he considers wildly improbably. She counters with real-life examples of situations
– disappearances and murders – that were even wilder than those in the stories
they read. He smiles knowingly, she retires to bed, and he goes on his walk.
And runs smack
into exactly one of those wildly improbable murders he has been admonishing his
aunt about. He sees a young man run running from the alley behind his row
house, and then he finds what the young man is running from – a body. A neighbor
has been stabbed to death and apparently robbed. The police investigate, and
the next day the young man is arrested trying to pawn one of the dead man’s
rings. Yet what seems like an open-and-shut case turns out to be something
else, something as wildly improbable as one of the aunt’s stories – long-ago
disappearances, a possible impersonation, a young woman who may or may not be
an heiress, and a considerable amount of general skullduggery.
This is The
Middle of Things by J.S. Fletcher
(1863-1935), originally published in 1922 (when automobiles were still called
motorcars). Fletcher was one of the best-known writers during mystery’s Golden
Age (roughly 1920-1950), and this mystery novel helps explain why – numerous
twists and turns, witnesses suddenly turning up, and the reader left guessing
until almost the very end.
The son of a
clergyman, Fletcher was raised by his grandmother on a farm in Yorkshire. He
became a journalist and extremely prolific author of some 237 works. He first
published poetry, and eventually began writing mysteries. Amazon Kindle has
Complete Works (15
mystery novels) for $2.99.
Viner teams up
with the dead man’s lawyer to investigate what the police won’t. He’s convinced
that the man charged with the crime didn’t do it; as it turns out, Viner
attended school with him (and an old school boy would never commit a murder).
Viner and the lawyer travel to the middle of England and track down witnesses
and evidence. And they begin to uncover a nefarious plot.
A product of its
era, The Middle of Things is still a
highly entertaining story.