Saturday, October 29, 2022

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley for the #1929Club

Title: The Poisoned Chocolates Case
Author: Anthony Berkeley
Publication: Chivers Press, hardcover, originally published in 1929
Genre: Mystery
Setting: London
Description: Roger Sheringham is the president of the Crimes Circle, an exclusive group of six, each passionately devoted to crime and detection. One evening Roger brings Scotland Yard’s Chief Inspector Moresby as a guest to share with the group what he knows about the recent murder of Joan Bendix. She had made a bet with her husband over a box of chocolates; an acquaintance at his club, Sir Eustace Pennefather, gave Mr. Bendix a box of chocolates he had just received in the post but did not want. Bendix brought it home to Joan, who ate the chocolates, which turned out to be poisoned, and died. Although everyone assumes Pennefather was the intended victim, the police have not identified a killer, so Roger suggests the Crime Circle use its expertise to solve the murder. Each member comes up with a plausible theory that does not convince the others.

My Impression: What makes this book entertaining is that in 1928 the author, an accomplished mystery writer, founded a Detection Club like the one in this story. His club’s roster included the luminaries of the era: Dorothy Sayers, Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Gladys Mitchell, Helen Simpson, and others. In real life, they bantered, they discussed their detectives and the rules of detective fiction, and they sometimes collaborated on stories. The six members of the fictional Crimes Circle are not as illustrious or as congenial as their real-life counterparts, but Roger is proud of their collective criminological genius:
Roger had some grounds for his assertion beyond mere parental pride. Entry into the charmed Crimes Circle’s dinners was not to be gained by all and hungry. It was not enough for a would-be member to profess an adoration for murder and let it go at that; he or she had got to prove that they were capable of worthily wearing their criminological spurs . . . . there must be constructive ability too; the candidate must have a brain and be able to use it.
No one doubts they can solve the Bendix murder faster than Scotland Yard and Berkeley makes fun of his mystery writing colleagues as they try to outdo each other, bribing the servants of those involved in the case to get information, showing photos to people in shops, making extravagant deductions, which they not-so-modestly reveal to one another. Roger himself is embarrassed when it turns out his conclusions were flimsy because he assumed people were telling him the truth and did not adequately investigate and gather evidence. The beauty of this book is that each character interprets the facts of the case differently to fit his or her assumptions. The other members grudgingly accept some of these interpretations but no one wants to give up a cherished theory of the case. Mr. Chitterwick, described as “not famous at all, a mild little man of no particular appearance who had been even more surprised at being admitted to this company of personages than they had been at finding him amongst them,” is humble enough to listen carefully rather than impatiently to the others. He does not reject everything they have said but draws his own conclusions:
“For I have often noticed,” apologized Mr. Chitterwick to the writers of detective-stories en masse, “that in books of that kind it is frequently assumed that any given fact can admit of only one single deduction, and that invariably the right one. Nobody else is capable of drawing any deductions at all but the author’s favorite detective, and the ones he draws (in the books where the detective is capable of drawing deductions at all which, alas, are only too few) are invariably right.”
I thought this started slowly but it turned out to be a very clever story, although at times repetitious, with lots of surprises as the reader, naturally, makes many of the same erroneous deductions as the Crime Circle!  This was my first book by Anthony Berkeley, another writer I learned about from Martin Edwards' The Golden Age of Murder, which I recommend.
I read this book for the 1929 Club, hosted by Simon from Stuck in a Book and Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. It is also my nineteenth book for the 2022 Cloak and Dagger Reading Challenge.

Source: Library


Cath said...

I read this one a couple of years ago. It's very well written, very clever, but I eventually got rather bored with the repetition. I do plan to read more by him though as I'm sure it would be worth it.

kaggsysbookishramblings said...

It's great fun, isn't it? Berkeley was an entertaining writer, though some of his earlier works do have some slightly worrying aspects...

JacquiWine said...

I'd been toying with the idea of buying this for Karen and Simon's Club week, but then I got distracted by something else and it never quite came together. Now I wish I had! It does sound very cleverly done.

Simon T (StuckinaBook) said...

I hadn't spotted this was 1929 until people started reading it this week! I read it a little while ago and enjoyed it, though found the third from last solution more convincing than the final one :D

Jeannike said...

Ernest Punshon is another Detection Club member, one who is rarely included. I enjoy his Bobby Owen mysteries.

I'm reading the second of Colleen Cambridge's contemporary mysteries that have a Detection Club setting.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours said...

I read The Piccadilly Murder and was not impressed, I should have chosen this one!