Archibald Gordon Macdonell (1895 – 1941) was a versatile writer. His most famous book was England, Their England (1933), for which he is remembered today. Its description of England between the wars, especially of a village cricket match, is considered a classic representation of English humor. He also wrote stage reviews, a historical study of Napoleon, comical plays, fiction, and six largely forgotten mysteries published under the name of Neil Gordon. See The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, volume 4, page 643, for a complete list of his works.
The Shakespeare Murders (Henry Holt, 1933) is one of the forgotten mysteries. It was popular enough at the time to be the basis of two movies, The Third Clue, released in 1934, and The Claydon Treasure Mystery, 1938. It’s very much a story of the 1930s. Peter Kerrigan is the leading sleuth. Kerrigan is a chatty gentleman adventurer with a fuzzy understanding of the boundary between what is legal and what is not, similar to a personable Simon Templar.
Kerrigan sees a pickpocket expertly extract a wallet from an abstracted gentleman walking down the street and on impulse steals the wallet back and follows the owner to return it. The owner is anxious about his brother, and Kerrigan has nothing better to do just then than to follow up on the missing brother. It turns out the brother has disappeared from his librarian job at Marsh Manor, cataloging the extensive collection for Lord Claydon, who lived quietly outside the rural town of Bicester. When Kerrigan arrives at Marsh Manor, he meets Inspector Fleming, whom he previously encountered in Murder in Earl’s Court (1931). Fleming is there to investigate the death of the librarian who replaced the vanished brother.
Kerrigan invites himself in to meet Lord Claydon, his daughter, her fiancé, his daughter’s friend, an art expert hired to appraise the paintings in the house, and a couple of gentlemen whom Kerrigan can’t quite figure out. He soon learns that a previous Lord Claydon was believed to have hidden a treasure of some kind in the house and the family is anxious to locate it. They believe the murdered librarian had found some clue to its whereabouts. Kerrigan’s elastic morality encourages him to look for it.
There follows a Keystone Kop sort of assault in the library late one night, which would have been amusing if it had not resulted in another murder. Inspector Fleming was on-site but unable to stop the second killing. Thugs from America who are associates of a known criminal show up, also expressing interest in the treasure. In the meantime, Lord Claydon’s aunt, an outspoken lady, arrives and she teams up with Kerrigan.
The story careens back and forth between frivolity and thuggery with a marginally reasonable solution.
Review based on the electronic version at www.fadedpage.com. Cover from the Fonthill Media 2015 reprint.