I really liked the first half, but the second half, not so much…
Murder in the Basement is the eighth in Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham series. Originally published in the 1930s, it recently has been e-published by Poisoned Pen Press as part of their British Library Crime Classics series, and I received a review copy from them. I had not previously read any of Berkeley’s Sheringham books, but I had rather high expectations, given the prestige of this series, and Berkeley’s acknowledged status as a “Golden Age” mystery author. And, portions of Murder in the Basement lived up to my expectations. But portions also definitely didn’t.
The book is more-or-less split into two parts. The first part, which I liked a lot, was a traditional procedural: newlyweds move into new home, discover body in basement, police (Inspector Moresby) have to figure out who the body is before they can even really try to figure out whodunnit. This part was well written, and had some fun parts – I especially enjoyed the opening, with the newlyweds trying to figure out how much to tip the moving crew.
The second part, however, is a plot conceit that didn’t really work for me. Because once the police DO figure out where the victim is from (a posh boys’ school), we learn that the rather obnoxious Roger Sheringham had spent some time as a substitute teacher there, and has even written a draft of a novel set at the school. So, he shares the manuscript with Inspector Moresby, and we end up reading that for background? To understand the suspects? For some reason? In any case, this approach didn’t really work for me, and I was more frustrated than engaged.
I will probably try another book of Berkeley’s at some point, since the well-written intro by Martin Edwards implies that this book is somewhat atypical for the series, and I really did like the more traditional first half. But for now, Murder in the Basement gets three-and-a-half stars from me. It’s worth reading if you like unusual literary devices, and/or if you just like an interesting mystery, which this was. But I suspect there may be better books in the series to start with. Finally, it’s worth noting that there is also a bit of “blame the victim/misogyny” which didn’t wear well with time. Perhaps not significantly more than in many other books of its age, and not so much that it can’t be consciously overlooked as typical of the genre/era, but it’s there…
And my thanks to Poisoned Pen Press, and to NetGalley for the review copy!
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