Murder Jigsaw by Edwin and Mona Radford (Andrew Melrose, 1944) was the second title in their series that featured Dr. Harry Manson, who was a Chief Detective-Inspector of Scotland Yard as well as the lead scientist in Scotland Yard’s Crime Research Laboratory. It was published the same year as the first one, Inspector Manson’s Success. Dean Street Press has re-released six of the Radford mysteries. Murder Jigsaw has an informative introduction by crime fiction historian Nigel Moss. In this early story, Manson’s scientific and deductive skills are described in detail, laying the ground for future books. Moss states that the Radfords modelled him after Dr. John Thorndyke, R. Austin Freeman’s series detective and that they wanted a police representative to move away from the prevalent amateur detective.
The site of action is Tremarden Arms, a picturesque hotel in Cornwall known for its access to fine fishing waters. A curmudgeon of a retired Army colonel is found drowned in a river with his fishing tackle on the bank nearby. The death is assumed by everyone to be an accident. Dr. Manson, however, at the hotel for a short vacation, visits the scene out of curiosity and sees enough to know that the death was not accidental. The ensuing investigation maximizes the use of forensic procedures and tools as they were known at the time. At a couple of points in the story, the Radfords pause the narrative and invite the reader to assess the clues and decide who the culprit is.
Dr. Manson learns that the colonel was almost universally disliked, and suspects abound. He finds it particularly awkward that some of the hotel guests he has known for years through their mutual fishing interests are among the most likely perpetrators. The colonel defrauded two of the hotel guests, one of whom lost his home because of it, and he appeared to be blackmailing another hotel guest. All in all, not a loss but Dr. Manson is sworn to uphold the law and goes full out to collect and analyze evidence and to identify the murderer.
The Radfords via Dr. Manson were up to date on current knowledge in regards to fingerprinting; one of the last chapters of the book gave a thorough explanation of the science as it was understood at that time. Emphasis is definitely on scientific methods and logical thinking in the solution, reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes. Completely unrelated, just the mention of Cornwall invokes images of seaside villages and picturesque scenery in my mind, and the description of the countryside around the hotel was especially appealing. An interesting, cerebral read.