Author: Anthony Rolls
John Farringdale, with his cousin Eric Foster, visits the famous archaeologist Tolgen Reisby. At Scarweather – Reisby’s lonely house on the windswept northern coast of England – Eric is quickly attracted to Reisby’s much younger wife, and matters soon take a dangerous turn. Fifteen years later, the final scene of the drama is enacted.
I picked this book up, knowing it was a crime novel. In a crime novel, there is usually…well a crime. A character in that novel obviously doesn’t know what kind of book they’re in. So if they learn that a person disappeared it’s realistic that they will accept ‘He went for a swim and drowned’ as explanation and not suspect foul play. But as a reader that’s still rather frustrating because you know that it isn’t going to end with the solution “It was an accidental drowning and nobody else was involved.”
It’s bearable if the character only needs a bit longer than the reader to discover that fact but Farringdale doesn’t need a bit longer. He needs the whole book and then he only gets it after someone explains it to him. Because he is the first-person narrator of this story but the actual investigator is his friend Frederick Ellingham. He describes himself as ‘the Watson’ and even without that direct shout-out it wouldn’t have been difficult to guess the inspiration for this story. Ellingham is incredibly clever, has a vast knowledge in several fields and leaves Farringdale in the dark about his suspicions because of reasons.
But there are also a fair number of differences. For one: Holmes had charm. And charisma. Ellingham has neither and while Farringdale keeps telling the reader what a great man and friend he is but really I never saw anything of it. He’s condescending and doesn’t seem to trust Farringdale at all. But far more importantly: Holmes frequently makes it clear that he doesn’t think somebody should be lett off just because he’s rich or influential. Ellingham, meanwhile, knows that someone is doing something illegal (not murder but still something serious) and from the way he tells it, it seemed to me that he would have had no problem proving it. Still, he decides not to do it because *drumroll* the man has a reputation and is such an important scientist. (As a side note: he’s an archaeologist, a profession Ellingham mocks throughout the whole book, essentially saying that they only make up stuff as they go along and that there’s no proper scientific reasoning behind their claims).
Farringdale, meanwhile, isn’t exactly a Watson, either since Watson had, you know, some brains. But when I said that he has no idea what’s going on until Ellingham explains it to him at the very end, I wasn’t exaggerating. He watches Ellingham come back repeatedly to the scene of the disappearance, act oddly in a myriad of different ways and witness a series of strange events. Then Ellingham even alludes that there might be something fishy going on but he remains convinced that it was all a tragic accident and a series of incredibly strange coincidences.
And since he doesn’t think there is anything wrong, he never does any investigating. So what we get is a mystery novel, told from the POV from someone who doesn’t even know that there is a mystery and who keeps talking about things that make you scream “DON’T YOU SEE WHAT’S GOING ON THERE? IT’S SO BLOODY OBVIOUS!” And then, when things are explained to him
in words with as few syllables as possible he almost faints from shock while most readers will go “I am shocked t hat gambling is going on in this house that all my suspicions turned out to be true.
Who would have expected that?”
Now, I don’t claim that I loved every single British Crime Library Classic I read so far but at least in most cases, I can see that others might enjoy them. So far there have been only two where that wasn’t the case: I really can’t see how anybody would find something enjoyable in Scarweather and The Secret of High Eldersham. They’re just plain bad…and the ending of Scarweather also offers an absolutely horrid moral about how reputation is more important than everything else.