Mavis Doriel Hay: Murder Underground

Title: Murder Underground
Author: Mavis Doriel Hay

If you were suddenly to be found murdered, would your friends have theories about who had done the deed? 

Well, when the wealthy and unpleasant Miss Pongleton meets her end on the stairs of Belsize Park underground station in ‘Murder Underground’, her housemates — though not particularly grieved —have plenty of guesses at the identity of her killer. While they’re merely airing theories, events arise that unexpectedly enable several of them, including Tuppy the terrier, to put them to the test.

Rating: delayed train (but got me where I wanted to go)

Hay only wrote three crime novels and it’s rather interesting to look at how her style changed. Her final Book – The Santa Klaus Murder – is a quite typical country house mystery. The family is home for Christmas, the dad dies and it’s neither unexpected nor natural and the inspector solves the case with some help of an old friend (who just happens to have a connection to the family). Her second book – Death on the Cherwell – is also fairly conventional but has some quirks. The book starts off with amateur sleuths doing some investigating, eventually, the police join in and for a while, we get POV-chapters from both until the police take over completely for the last few chapters.

Now Murder Underground does something that’s very unusual for a mystery: A lot of space is devoted to the POV of Basil who doesn’t do any sleuthing. He’s Miss Pongleton’s nephew and he found her body. Only Basil is not the brightest bulb in the basket and worries that since he only went to visit his aunt because she had threatened to disinherit him, circumstances would make him look very suspicious and so he decides not to call the police. Instead, he rushes off and tries to spin himself an alibi – with the help of some friends whom he begs to lie for him (often without telling them the whole truth) and the reader follows him while he’s doing that. Admittedly, despite having some sympathy for his situation, the longer it kept going, the more I wished for one of them to go “No. I’m not going to do that for you, just own up your mistakes.” because Basil quickly went from loveable idiot to plain idiot who never considered that he might be getting his friends in trouble with what he’s doing.

At the same time, Mrs Daymer, Miss Pongleton’s landlady, makes a discovery that implicates an acquaintance of them in the murder but she considers the whole thing not solid enough to take to the police straight away. She prefers to do some investigating on her own first. Or rather, together with another acquaintance of the deceased. This investigation requires them to rush off immediately after the inquest, and leaving behind the police who had wanted to ask them some more questions.

When we first see the whole thing from the POV of the inspector the book is almost over. And we see that (as most will have suspected) Basil’s actions weren’t as subtle and secretive as he thought they were. The inspector knows that Basil didn’t do what he claimed he did and that some of his friends are covering up for him. He jumps to the rather obvious conclusion that he must have something to do with the murder. But at the same time, the inspector is confused by the actions of Mrs Daymer and her friend and wonders how their behaviour fits in. Presumably, he also wishes he could just leave the case to somebody else and drink a bottle of Gin (at least I would in his place).

I did enjoy this unusual take on a mystery but sadly, like in Death on the Cherwell, the true killer was rather easy to guess. I wonder what would have happened if Hay had continued writing mysteries. Perhaps, after Santa Klaus Murder (which is admittedly well plotted but lacks any memorable characters and feels like painting-by-numbers mystery) she would have gone back to some more unusual takes on the mystery with better plots. As it is, none of her books are really outstanding, just some nice fun. Which isn’t a bad thing to be for a mystery but I also can’t say that you’re missing something important if you’re skipping Hay’s books.

9 thoughts on “Mavis Doriel Hay: Murder Underground

  1. Madam Mim

    “Not the brightest bulb in the basket” hahaha I really enjoyed this book, but you’re absolutely right – it wasn’t hard to guess the killer. Muriel Doriel Hay was a great writer though – a good reminder for me to go check out her other books! Great review 🙂

    1. If you enjoyed that I think you’ll also have fun with Death on the Cherwell. As said it has some similarities (with some not-too-bright amateurs meddling with the investigation) but veers into a more typical mystery halfway through when the police take over the investigation.
      Santa Klaus Murder is just a pretty standard country house mystery, not too bad but not to great either and no characters were as charming as in her other books.
      Thank you 🙂

      1. Madam Mim

        I’ll give Death on the Cherwell a go then… They are pretty unique books for having the amateurs meddling. I can’t actually think of anywhere I’ve seen that before…

      2. True. Usually the amateurs are much cleverer than the police 😀 this kind of reverse was fun. Which is why I really wish Hay had written some more crime fiction and tried her hands at more stories of that type. It really was fun

      3. Madam Mim

        Same! I wonder what happened to her, and why she stopped writing (I know the answer to this probably depressing, but I can’t help wondering haha)

    1. I think because I had the audiobook which I listened to while walking so I had no choice and *had* to power through the multitude of characters at the beginning. It does get better (as in: no more characters appear, she just introduced the whole cast in the first chapters)

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