Friday, 17 January 2014

The Ingenious Mr Stone by Robert Player

Published 1945, set in the 1930s






[Sophie Coppock is preparing for a visit to London]

I was able to pack my purple silk with the short sleeves, and I must own that I felt rather excited…

It was finally agreed that we should see Macbeth at – as it always seems to be called – the ‘Old Vic’. It was only some years later that it struck me as rather a curious coincidence that it should have been Macbeth

I hope that I shall be thought neither skittish nor abandoned when I say that I had been eagerly looking forward to an evening in the West End - to the gay restaurant, to the sight of jewels and furs, to the lights and the glitter, and to the feeling that, just for once, I was mixing with the haut ton. I suppose that there is still a bit of the Old Eve in me for I never see Piccadilly Circus at night without getting that funny feeling which the French call joie de vivre

[At the theatre there are boxes of chocolates] one with a purple ribbon and one with a green… ‘Why!’ said Hallam, laughing, ‘you might have given Miss Coppock the one with the purple ribbon, to go with her nice dress.’


observations: It is hard to believe that this book was published in 1945: it is very modern in its tone, its style, its humour, and its unreliable narrators. Miss Coppock is a wonderful creation: unmarried, Secretary and Bursar at a girls’ boarding school, hero-worshipping the headmistress, and not seeing what is in front of her face. Poor Coppock:
I had completely given up suggesting holiday plans to my colleagues; however early in the year I did so I invariably found that their arrangements were already made. It was very odd..
This is an extremely complex detective story, with several narrators: the explanation at the end of what really happened takes up 60 pages, and requires a family tree, but it is worth every word. The suspicious goings-on start at a girls’ school in Torquay, the action then moves to London, then up to a private hotel in the Borders. There are poisonings, thefts and inheritances. The cast of characters is wide and varied, including one who is writing a book called The Crimes of the Popes, and one who may be The Bundaberg Monster. The whole thing is a joy from start to finish, and I am always astonished the book isn’t better known.

Robert Player was the pseudonym of architectural expert Robert Furneaux Jordan, and he wrote a handful of crime stories – this one is the best, but the others are worth a look too.

The picture, from Wikimedia Commons, is by Hippolyte Petitjean.

12 comments:

  1. Probably not one for me, though I guess I would end up enjoying it if I was forced to read it, which I won't be, ever

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    1. I think it's quite hard to get hold of, which is a shame. It is one of my all-time favourites, one I re-read, but probably you're right, not your kind of thing....

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  2. Love this book! It was almost like reading an old Victorian sensation novel. I had no trouble finding a copy in the used book market. I don't think I piad more than $10 for it. I intended to review ...MR STONE last year, but my notes ran to over four pages and it became too much of a headache to condense them into a blogpost. I may try again this year.

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    1. Oh please do review it - I would so like to read another opinion, I think you are the first person I have come across who has read it. What a great book it is...

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  3. Apparently (based on Fantastic Fiction and Wikipedia) he wrote this one book in 1945, then four more in the 1970's. How strange. Very interesting. I will keep it in mind for the future. And I love the picture.

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    1. It is strange - it's as if he came from nowhere, wrote this one book, then disappeared. The later ones are good, but nothing like this one in any sense. If you ever see a 2nd hand copy, grab it.

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  4. Moira: I thought it a perfect painting for the quotation. When I looked at I thought she was from a book set in Victorian times. As the book was written in 1945 was it set in the mid-1940's.

    Of all the words for shades of purple the dress seemed lavender to me.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words. It was set in the 1930s, but I felt Sophie was an older lady and rather old-fashioned, so would be wearing a dress such as this one. I am not confident on my shades of purple, but I'm sure you are right!

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  5. Oh, Moira, this sounds great! And I love the sound of Miss Coppock. But then I suppose I have a soft spot for educators. ;-). The theatre mention is appealing too.

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    1. As I say above, if you ever get the chance, grab a 2nd hand copy of this one, I'm sure you would enjoy it very much. It is a combination of all kinds of delights....

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  6. It's gone on my list of titles to look for in second hand shops as it does sound like something I would enjoy. And I adore the pciture

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    1. Everyone's tastes differ, but if you see a cheap copy, do snap it up - I think it's worth a punt by any detective fan....

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