Anthony Berkeley: The Silk Stocking Murders

Title: The Silk Stocking Murders
Author: Anthony Berkeley
Series: Roger Sheringham Cases #4

When the daughter of a country parson goes missing in London, Roger Sheringham receives a letter from her father pleading for help. As the amateur sleuth investigates, he discovers that the girl is already dead, found hanging from a door by her own silk stocking. It is presumed suicide, but when more young women are found dead in the same manner, questions arise. Was it merely copycat suicide, or will the case lead Sheringham into a maze of murder?

Roger Sheringham is clever but not quite as clever as he thinks he is. The author is very aware of this fact and uses occasionally for some light which immediately earns the books some bonus points. I do enjoy it when mystery writers don’t take themselves/their books and heroes completely serious.

At the same time, everybody takes the case very serious. As they should, since this is the story of a serial killer who is targeting young women. You know, the plot of 2/3 of all Criminal Minds episodes and 3-4 episodes per season of Any Other Crimeshow. Now, of course this book pre-dates all of them, so it’s not its fault that I have seen far to many screaming women and men feeling sad because women are suffering. And I admit, I didn’t expect much from this book. After all it’s from a time when murder mysteries were mostly puzzles, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had just one women after the other dropping dead and Roger Sheringham proclaiming “I must solve this mystery!” But it’s not like this at all. Instead he meets friends or family of most of the victims and sees them all as people. And while he does want to solve the puzzle, it’s also quite clear that he wants justice for these women.

So, a perfect book that I can whole-heartedly recommend? Sadly, not quite. For one, you’ll easily guess the killer, if you’ve some prior experience with crime fiction. Once again, it’s not the book’s fault that I’m reading it in 2019 and not in 1928, when the twists were probably more surprising due to not having been used extensively in crime fiction of all sorts.

The other issue is…well Welcome to Eva’s Period-Appropriate -ism-Corner. Or rather more than the period-appropriate isms. Because you can’t read books written in the 20s and 30s and expect them to be perfect in their treatment of minorities. Chances are there are some questionable throwaway comments in many of them. But The Silk Stocking Murders doesn’t just have some throwaway comments. Roger Sheringham – surprisingly considering what I wrote above – has some very questionable thoughts about women. Though I at least had the feeling that the author doesn’t necessarily share all of those and mocks him slightly for it, in the same way he mocks Roger for being not quite as clever as he thinks he is. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part, and even if it isn’t it’s not a joke that aged very well. But that’s not the only thing. The book also features a Jewish character and pretty much everybody – including Roger Sheringham – keeps going on about how surprising it is that he’s a decent person, you know considering…conversations along those lines happen several times, sometimes featuring explanations attempts as to why that is, that only make everything worse.

I still found it interesting to look at such an early attempt at a mystery featuring a serial killer and I did like Roger in those moments when he wasn’t giving the reader his questionable opinions but if you think about reading this book, you should know that he isn’t too shy about sharing them.