So Pretty a Problem by Francis Duncan (John Long, 1947) is one of the Mordecai Tremaine mysteries, either the third (Amazon) or the fifth (Stop, You’re Killing Me). Tremaine is a retired tobacconist whose choice of leisure reading is romance stories and whose hobby is criminology. He’s on vacation in Cornwall with his friend Chief Inspector Jonathan Boyce of Scotland Yard, where he encounters the famous and controversial artist Adrian Carthallow with his wife Helen. Tremaine had met the pair briefly earlier and slipped into a chatty renewed acquaintance with them and their circle easily enough.
The Carthallows live in a fantastic home built on a piece of land that broke away from the rest of Cornwall years ago. On the ocean-facing side is a steep cliff and on the land side is a bridge that’s highly visible. So when Adrian Carthallow turns up dead of a gunshot wound and Helen insists first it was an accident and then self-defense, the local inspector is at a loss to do anything but arrest her, as neither of her stories is consistent with the physical evidence, and no one else was seen to enter the house. Yet he does not think she is guilty of murder, so Tremaine undertakes his own investigation.
The book is set up in three chronological parts: the first is the time immediately before and after the death, the second describes the relationships of the main characters and the events of the several weeks before the shooting, and the third the detailed investigation and identification of the culprit. I found the second section a bit of a slog. I read Murder for Christmas about 18 months ago and don’t remember being bored with it but I was definitely bored with parts of this book. It could easily have been reduced by 50 pages without affecting the story line or characterization or backstory.
While the plot was clever, the setting exquisite, and the characters fresh, I find I am not quite as enthusiastic about tackling a third one in the series as I was when I started this volume. Cover art from 2018 Sourcebooks reprint.