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Authors: Ianthe Jerrold

Dead Man's Quarry

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Ianthe Jerrold
Dead Man's Quarry
A GOLDEN AGE MYSTERY

“The murderer was also riding a bicycle... why, if we can trace it, we shall have the murderer!”

On a cycling holiday in idyllic Herefordshire countryside, Nora and her friends make a gruesome discovery – the body of their missing comrade at the bottom of a quarry. But an apparently accidental fall turns out to have been murder – for the man was shot in the head.

Fortunately John Christmas, last seen in
The Studio Crime
(1929), is on hand with his redoubtable forensic associate, Sydenham Rampson. Between them they shed light on an intricate pattern of crimes... and uncover a most formidable foe.

Dead Man's Quarry
is the second of Ianthe Jerrold's classic and influential whodunits, originally published in 1930.

Introduction

On the strength of
The Studio Crime
(1929), the first of Ianthe Jerrold's pair of exceptional Golden Age detective novels, the author, an accomplished member of the literary Jerrold family (see the introduction to
The Studio Crime
), was invited to join the newly-launched Detection Club, a social organization of some of Britain's best crime writers, all of whom had pledged in their genre writing to respect both the King's English and the principle of “fair play” with one's readers. Jerrold accepted the invitation, thereby becoming one of the Club's original members, along with such mystery fiction luminaries as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, G.K. Chesterton, A.E.W. Mason, the Baroness Orczy, E.C. Bentley, H.C. Bailey, Helen Simpson, Clemence Dane, Anthony Berkeley, Henry Wade, John Rhode, R. Austin Freeman and Freeman Wills Crofts. Near the end of her first year as a member of the Club, Jerrold published a second detective novel,
Dead Man's Quarry
(1930), a work reflective of her recent acceptance into the ranks of the
crème de la crème
of British detective novelists.

Where
The Studio Crime
is a city tale, taking place in London's St. John's Wood and its environs,
Dead Man's Quarry
is a country novel, set in the beautiful Wye Valley, in the borderland known as the Welsh Marches. In this wild region Ianthe had traversed Hergest Ridge with her sister Phyllis, to whom she dedicated
Dead Man's Quarry
(“To PHYLLIS who, in her enthusiasm for wild strawberries, kept us waiting at the foot of Hergest Ridge long enough to give rise to the most lurid surmises and to the plot of this story.”) The novel presents to readers some of the most characteristic features of classic English mystery: quaint villages, rustic cottages and inns, an ancestral manor, and a frontispiece map. The latter feature is no mere furbelow, for the opening chapters of the novel detail the rural ambles of a cycling party composed of the middle-aged Dr. Browning and his two children, precocious adolescent Lion and his art student sister, Nora; Isabel Donne, an enigmatic classmate of Nora's; Felix Price, a moody young photographer; and Charles Price, Felix's boorish cousin, recently returned from Canada, where he had been packed off years ago, to claim the local baronetcy after the death of the old squire, Sir Evan Price.

Abruptly a cloud looms over the cycling tour when one of its members mysteriously vanishes; and this cloud darkens menacingly after a brutally slain body is found in a local disused quarry. On hand to investigate these goings-on is amateur detective John Christmas, Jerrold's sleuth from
The Studio Crime
, providentially vacationing in the area with his bracingly unimaginative scientific researcher cousin, Sydenham Rampson (“I need a wet blanket,” Christmas explains, “and the scientific mind is the wet blanket
par excellence
.”) The circle of suspicion is large, encompassing members of the cycling party itself, various village locals and country visitors and certain individuals within the household of Rhyllan Hall, the ancestral home of the Price baronets, including Felix Price's haughty father, Morris, the longtime manager of the Price estate; Felix's calm and capable sister, Blodwen; and the Rhyllan Hall librarian, Mr. Clino, a distant relative of the Price family and closet mystery fiction addict.

Fans of Golden Age mystery will note amusing passages in
Dead Man's Quarry
where the characters talk what to Ianthe Jerrold at this time would have been Detection Club “shop”—i.e., detective fiction itself. “All great detectives have simple, rural tastes,” Christmas pronounces at one point to Nora Browning, who for a time acts as the sleuth's official Watson (Miss Watson, he dubs her). “Sherlock Holmes kept bees. Sergeant Cuff grew roses. I, when I retire, shall cultivate the simple aster.” On another occasion young Lion Browning, a confirmed materialist, opines that R. Austin Freeman is far superior to Arthur Conan Doyle as a writer of crime fiction (“More scientific,” he pronounces.) Elderly Mr. Clino ashamedly admits that detective stories have “become quite a vice with me,” after he has been caught with copies of
The Purple Ray Murders
and
Murder in the Purple Attic
(one surmises these novels are part of some “purple” series.) “In fact, as time goes on I read more and more of them and less and less of anything else. It's rather regrettable, really, for they're mostly bad….I try to cure myself of the habit, sometimes, by reading Scott and Thackeray, who used to be my favorites. But I find that my taste is so vitiated that I can no longer read good authors with enjoyment.” He reflects that “there is always Wilkie Collins. But one can't go on reading ‘The Woman in White' forever.”

In her mystery criticism Dorothy L. Sayers ballyhooed Wilkie Collins's Victorian-era sensation novels, contrasting what she deemed the genuine literary art in those works with the mere craft of 1920s/30s detective fiction, which in her view tended to engage only the problem-solving part of the brain, leaving the human emotions untouched. Such criticism cannot be directed justly at a detective novel like
Dead Man's Quarry
, which boasts not only a clever puzzle, but also has, like Jerrold's “mainstream” novels from this time, an interesting setting, engaging characters, charming writing and a poignant depiction of complicated human relationships. In
Dead Man's Quarry
Jerrold anticipated the so-called “manners mystery” most strongly associated today with the Thirties detective novels of Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh, in which authors strove to more compellingly portray characters and their social interactions. In my view Jerrold's novel is a worthy companion to such Crime Queen classics as Sayers's
Strong Poison
(1930), Allingham's
Death of a Ghost
(1934) and Marsh's
Artists in Crime
(1938). It is, as one contemporary review pronounced, “well-written and well-contrived.”

After the publication of
Dead Man's Quarry
, Ianthe Jerrold, who had married George Menges (a brother of the celebrated concert violinist Isolde Menges) in 1927, and with him acquired a rambling Tudor farmhouse in the Wye Valley, produced no other detective novels during the rest of the decade. The five additional novels that Jerrold published in the 1930s are all mainstream works (in 1940, however, there appeared another detective novel,
Let Him Lie
, followed eight years later by a spy thriller,
There May Be Danger
; both were credited to an Ianthe Jerrold pseudonym, “Geraldine Bridgman”). Perhaps Mr. Clino's words in
Dead Man's Quarry
had signaled an intended abandonment of the genre by one of its most distinguished, if least prolific, Golden Age adepts. Between 1945 and 1966 Jerrold would publish eight more mainstream novels under her own name, yet she was not entirely finished with crime fiction. Aside from penning the two Geraldine Bridgman books, Jerrold contributed a gripping inverted mystery tale, “Blue Lias,” to
Detection Medley
, a massive Detection Club anthology edited by John Rhode, and she published four short stories in 1951/52 in
The London Mystery Magazine
: “Brother in the Barrow,” “Cranford Revisited,” “The Deadlier Twin” and “Off the Tiles” (“Cranford Revisited” sounds especially intriguing.) Additional Ianthe Jerrold mystery fiction may yet await rediscovery and republication. For now, classic mystery fans should derive considerable satisfaction from the reappearance in print of
Dead Man's Quarry
and
The Studio Crime
, a pair of superlative English mysteries that embody the best qualities of Golden Age detective fiction.

Curtis Evans

To PHYLLIS

who, in her enthusiasm for wild strawberries, kept us waiting at the foot of Hergest Ridge long enough to give rise to the most lurid surmises and to the plot of this story.

CHAPTER ONE
TEA FOR SIX

Nora Browning, pausing uncertainly a moment in the dim, low-ceilinged passage of the inn, wondering behind which of its closed doors she would find the waitress, experienced a slight shock on seeing her own grave face looking at her from an unexpected mirror placed in a dark corner beside the back door. The mirror was dark and old and greenish, and the appearance in it of her own face against the background of the chocolate-coloured painted wainscoting peculiar to country inns pleased and surprised her, as if somebody had paid her a compliment on her looks. Forgetful of her mission, which was to order boiled eggs for tea, she went closer to the glass and looked critically at her own reflection.

Nora was not in the habit of noticing casual reflections of herself. She had grown up on good terms with her own face, which was indeed neither beautiful enough nor plain enough to trouble her, and until a few months ago she had paid it only sufficient attention to see that it was clean and not too unfashionably shiny. Lately, she had taken more interest in mirrors, and more time than had been her wont in pinning up her thick plaits of light brown hair, a process that often ended in a mental comparison between her own dissatisfied reflection looking back at her and another face, that of Isabel Donne. Isabel, with her fine pale skin and golden freckles, her elfish pointed chin and humorous narrow lips that made a teasing contrast with heavy-lidded dreaming hazel eyes, her fine reddish-golden hair cut straight and turning in softy like a child's around her small white neck, was a young woman to turn many a young man's head and to make many another young woman look with dissatisfaction at her own reflection. A committee of art professors nurtured on the Greek might have awarded the apple to Nora. But Felix Price was a modernist.

However, Nora, having the calm philosophical temperament that usually accompanies classic features, did not intend to allow her holiday to be spoilt either by her own love affairs or those of her companions. The county of Radnorshire was glorious after six months in London, the weather was only capricious enough to give variety to the landscape, and a bicycling tour with congenial companions was an excellent way of enjoying both. Moreover, Nora had recently sold two polychromatic and peremptory posters to the Underground Railway, and had received a commission to design two more. To a young artist, there is nothing like professional success for putting love in its proper place.

Having communed for a few seconds with her own pleasing features, Nora took leave of them with a childish and hideous grimace; but quickly composed them to their usual serenity as she saw from the reflection in the mirror that some patron of the Tram Inn was standing in its sunny front doorway, looking down the dim tunnel-like passage towards her. Turning quickly, in some embarrassment, she was in time to see the stranger, as if equally embarrassed, move away from the door and disappear. At the same moment the waitress came out from one of the doors giving on the passage.

“Could we have some boiled eggs with our tea, please?”

The girl looked at her thoughtfully and replied in the soft sing-song voice peculiar to the county:

“I expect you could.”

She paused a moment, as if considering the possibilities of her chicken-yard.

“How many eggs would you be wanting?”

BOOK: Dead Man's Quarry
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