murder-in-the-museum“Beneath the high, gloomy dome, Henry Fairhurst looked around him.”

The British Library is responsible for many great things, but lately I am simply grateful for their Crime Classics series. I’ve read five of these beauties now, so regular readers of my blog will probably have seen me gush about them before. In short, however, they are republishing crime novels from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction that, for whatever reason, have not survived to be worshipped into our age. In fact, the book being discussed today, Murder in the Museum, hasn’t been republished since it was released in the late 1930s. And it was completely overdue.

It’s 1937, and in the Reading Room at the British Museum, visitor Henry Fairhurst takes an interest in a man who isn’t looking too well. By the time Henry is at the side of Professor Julius Arnell, the academic is dead, apparently having died quite suddenly of natural causes. However, the police are called and soon discover that things are not that simple. Arnell was killed after eating a sugared almond – his favourite treat – that had been laced with poison.

When two more academics in the same field as Arnell also die in suspicious circumstances around the museum, Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard is called upon to try and make sense of the situation. Accompanied by the efficient Sergeant Cunningham, and eager Henry Fairhurst, who has decided that he’s an amateur detective and can solve the murder, Shelley must now work out who the killer is, whether Arnell’s daughter or nephew, both of whom stand to inherit from the old man’s death, are involved, and just what a certain young Harry Baker was doing at the museum on the occasion of yet another murder…

Quite why this book disappeared from circulation so quickly is beyond me. It’s short and snappy, although breaks a few of “the rules” of detective fiction at the time. However, I can’t complain too much – Agatha Christie broke pretty much all of them – and it leads to more suspense and confusion that keeps the tale going. It’s also pretty funny, with the relationship between the policemen Cunningham and Shelley being well constructed and honest, and everyone’s frustration with Henry Fairhurst who seems to think that because he was on the scene at the time, he should be involved in the police’s work. To have him unknowingly share more information than he knows he has feels like a laboured coincidence, but also you just go with it for fun.

There’s one great surprise about two thirds of the way through, which really does make you sit up and take notice, but otherwise it’s a pretty easy-going read and one for anyone who loves detective fiction, especially from the era when it was at its best. Great characters, fun plot, and generally an entertaining fast read that’ll put you off sugared almonds forever.

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