Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Laughing Dog by Francis Vivian

The Laughing Dog by Arthur Ernest Ashley writing as Francis Vivian (Hodder & Stoughton, 1949) is the fifth mystery from Ashley/Vivian that features Inspector Gordon Knollis of New Scotland Yard. Here is another series being rescued from undeserved oblivion by Dean Street Press, to whom the mystery-reading world owes a debt of thanks. This particular volume has a helpful introduction from crime historian Curtis Evans, who tells us that Knollis appears in 10 of the 18 mysteries written by Vivian.

The story opens with Dr. Hugh Challoner vacationing in Algiers and visiting a quick sketch caricaturist/artist named Aubrey Highton, who draws the doctor as a laughing fox terrier. The doctor did not care for the finished portrait but agreed to help Highton find work when he visits England later in the year. Only days after Highton arrives in Sturton Lacey, Dr. Challoner is found dead in his home, where he saw patients. The last patient of the day, Mrs. Madeleine Burke, insists that the doctor was perfectly healthy, if somewhat distracted, when she left the consulting room close to 7:30 P.M. Dr. Challoner’s daughter and her fiancé were in another part of the house and did not hear anything worrying, due to the soundproofing between the doctor’s surgery and his living quarters. Highton had left just before Mrs. Burke, locking the door to the doctor’s office on his way out.

Inspector Knollis and his sergeant George Ellis undertake a lengthy investigation, including repeated interviews of and research on the only possible suspects: Highton, Mrs. Burke, the daughter, and the fiancée.

The first detail I noticed in this locked room mystery is that it offers maps of Dr. Challoner’s house and of the relevant section of the town in which the house is situated. Locations and the distances from the house to other destinations in the town play a significant role in the solution, so I was happy to see them. I also love maps for themselves, as they add a careful touch of realism to a wholly fictional universe.

I liked the main characters; the interplay between Knollis and Ellis is nicely done. The plot is carefully worked out, although I thought the story was protracted near the end for no useful purpose. The plot hinges on a point that another GA mystery I read recently used so perhaps I am a little biased because of it. At any rate, this book is a competent but not particularly exciting read. I like the characters enough to try another title in the series at some point.

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