So Pretty a Problem by Francis DuncanSo Pretty a Problem by Francis Duncan
Narrator: John Curless
Series: Mordecai Tremaine #3
Published by Recorded Books on May 1, 2018 (first published 1950)
Source: Purchased
Genres: Vintage Mystery
Length: 9 hrs 41 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Adrian Carthallow, enfant terrible of the art world, is no stranger to controversy. But this time it’s not his paintings that have provoked a blaze of publicity – it’s the fact that his career has been suddenly terminated by a bullet to the head. Not only that, but his wife has confessed to firing the fatal shot.

Inspector Penross of the town constabulary is, however, less than convinced by Helen Carthallow’s story – but has no other explanation for the incident that occurred when the couple were alone in their clifftop house.

Luckily for the Inspector, amateur criminologist Mordecai Tremaine has an uncanny habit of being in the near neighbourhood whenever sudden death makes its appearance. Investigating the killing, Tremaine is quick to realise that however handsome a couple the Carthallows were, and however extravagant a life they led, beneath the surface there’s a pretty devil’s brew…

So Pretty a Problem is the third of the Mordecai Tremaine books. Mordeaci, our amateur sleuth, is a retired tobacconist with a fondness for romance literature. He’s mild-mannered but a shrewd observer of people. Tremaine has accompanied his good friend Scotland Yard Inspector Jonathan Boyce to Cornwall for a relaxing holiday, with nothing on the agenda but lazing around and soaking up the summer sun. So, of course, Tremaine gets caught up in the murder of a local celebrity, painter Adreian Carthallo. Tremaine had met the artist and his wife, Helen, several months earlier in London and had continued his acquaintance with them in Cornwall, where their vacation home was. 

I really liked how So Pretty a Problem was structured. First we jump right into the mystery. Adreian is dead and his wife admits to killing him – although accidentally. Of course, her story has holes galore and the local inspector isn’t buying it. Happily, Mordecai is on the spot and knows all the people involved.

Then we go back in time and learn how we got here. We meet everyone, including plenty of suspects, see how they interact, learn about their affairs and secrets. Mordecai has spent a lot of time with them but sees them from an outsiders point of view. He’s not really part of their circle but sees most of what’s going on.

Finally, there’s the investigation after the murder. Was Helen really the only other person in the house that day? Who is telling the truth and who is lying and why? Mordecai’s help is actually appreciated by the police, which is a nice change from a lot of cozy mysteries.

I tend to enjoy vintage mysteries. They’re more puzzley and less graphic. This one was good, with plenty of clues and suspects. And I enjoy Mordecai. He’s a romantic at heart, always hoping for a happy ending.

About Francis Duncan

Francis Duncan

Francis Duncan (1918-1988) is the pseudonym for William Underhill. Underhill  lived virtually all his life in Bristol. Writing was always important to him and very early on he published articles in newspapers and magazines. His first detective story was published in 1936.

Although a conscientious objector, he served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in World War II, landing in France shortly after D-Day. After the war he trained as a teacher and spent the rest of his life in education, first as a primary school teacher and then as a lecturer in a college of further education.

Throughout much of this time he continued to write detective fiction from ‘sheer inner necessity’, but also to supplement a modest income.


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