A very clever mystery!
“The Documents in the Case” is well-written and slowly played out to reveal the interplay of personalities. The author’s sympathy at first is engaged by reading letters written by the major characters of the book. Slowly the personalities emerge and the reader is pleasurably encouraged to change their own perspectives of the characters as their individual idiosyncrasies, temptations and motives are revealed.
For instance, take a look at Miss Milsom:
“Miss Milson has always seemed to me a very tiresome woman, and lately she has been getting altogether above herself. She consults these psycho-analytical quacks, who encourage her to attach an absurd importance to her whims and feelings, and to talk openly at the dinner-table about things which, in my (doubtless old-fashioned) opinion, ought only to be mentioned to doctors. Besides, she is very lazy and untidy, and, instead of putting her mind to the housework, she litters the place with wool and bits of of paper which she calls “art materials,” and she borrows my paints and forgets to return them. There is no harm, of course, in her doing needlework and making calendars, if it does not interfere with her duties, but she has frequently been very impertinent when I have had occasion to speak about the unsatisfactory cooking.
Lathom has been painting a picture of her – a very clever thing, certainly, but it seems to have turned her head completely.”
(How clever this portrayal of a character is done within the context of a letter!)
Suspense is slowly drawn out as the reader begins to question, along with Mr. Harrison’s son, whether murder did in fact occur, and exactly how it could have been possible. Could Mr. Harrison, an expert with fungi, have mistakenly added poisonous mushrooms to his stew? With a clear motive (that is gradually unfurled) present, but no opportunity, did in fact, murder take place?
“I looked through the instrument. Dead blackness. But if the thing had shown all the colours of the rainbow, I should have been in no state to draw any conclusions from it. I sat stunned while somebody switched on the lights, extinguished the Bunsen burner and locked all the apparatus up again.
Then I found myself straggling after the other two, while they talked about something or the other. I had an indea that I came into it, and presently Waters turned back and thrust his arm into mine.
“What you want,” he said, “is a double Scotch, and no soda.”
I don’t very well remember getting home, but that, I think, was not due to the double Scotch, but to the bewilderment of mind. I do remember waking my wife up and blurting out my story in a kind of confused misery, which must have perplexed and alarmed her. And I remember saying that it was quite useless to think of going to bed, because I should never sleep. And I remember waking this morning very late, with the feeling that someone was dead.”
My interest wanted somewhat in the middle, but I persevered and was so glad I did as the mystery began to be revealed and developed in the final third of the book.
Sayers, once again, has proven herself a master of the mystery genre. If you are new to Dorothy Sayers, I would recommend beginning with her “Strong Poison” to get a feel for her writing and creativity before tackling this one.