The Detection Club: Ask a Policeman

Title: Ask A Policeman
Author: John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy

Lord Comstock is a barbarous newspaper tycoon with enemies in high places. His murder in the study of his country house poses a dilemma for the Home Secretary. In the hours before his death, Lord Comstock’s visitors included the government Chief Whip, an Archbishop, and the Assistant Commissioner for Scotland Yard. Suspicion falls upon them all and threatens the impartiality of any police investigation. Abandoning protocol, the Home Secretary invites four famous detectives to solve the case: Mrs Adela Bradley, Sir John Saumarez, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Mr Roger Sheringham. All are different, all are plausible, all are on their own – and none of them can ask a policeman… 

This is a collaboration of six members of the Detection Club. John Rhode introduces a case – the murder of an unlikeable newspaper editor with several high-profile suspects – and Gladys Mitchell’s Mrs Bradley, Helen Simpson’s Sir John, Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter and Anthony Berkleey’s Roger Sheringham all investigate and offer a solution. Milward Kennedy then wraps it all up. Except there’s a little twist: the writers don’t write the chapter about their own detective but someone else’s. So Mitchell writes Sir John, Simpson Mrs Bradley, Sayers Roger Sheringham and Berkeley Lord Peter.

Martin Edwards promises us in the introduction that this leads to a fun mixture of mystery and parody. And the idea is undoubtedly nice but the first problem for me is…that I’ve only read Sayers and Berkley before. I never read anything by Mitchell or Simpson and so I couldn’t enjoy the parody parts of those stories, except occasionally getting the vague feeling of this odd behaviour is probably a riff on one of the character’s quirks. I do know Sheringham (admittedly not that well) but I did find his chapter funny. I know Lord Peter much better and admittedly like him a lot, so perhaps I’m slightly less inclined to enjoy reading about him being mocked but it’s not that I think Peter is too great to be made fun off. Only that Berkeley goes for the very cheap shot (haha, look how posh he is) and that doesn’t carry through a whole story (I guess each one is somewhere between long short story and short novella).

So with the parody falling somewhat flat for me that leaves the mystery and well – a story like this is inevitably going to end up being very constructed. Not that other golden age mysteries aren’t but the whole set-up of this story really ramps it up to 11 and I also wasn’t the biggest fan of that.

In the end, I think that the whole round-robin style mystery is a fun idea but not one that really works for me. Even if everybody had written their own detective it still would have been a really over-the-top constructed mystery and that’s just not my thing.