Eric Mayer

Byzantine Blog

Get Email Updates
Cruel Music
Diana Rowland
Martin Edwards
Electric Grandmother
Jane Finnis
Keith Snyder
My Incredibly Unremarkable Life
Mysterious Musings
Mystery of a Shrinking Violet
The Rap Sheet
reenie's reach
Thoughts from Crow Cottage
This Writing Life
Woodstock's Blog
Email Me

Admin Password

Remember Me

1482024 Curiosities served
Share on Facebook

A Forgotten Mystery
Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Read/Post Comments (9)

Mary and I have been doing a rewrite on our eighth Byzantine book so my mind has been on mysteries. Every Friday Patricia Abbott devotes her blog to undeservedly forgotten mystery books. Along with several contributions there is a list of links to bloggers who participate on their own sites.

my suggestion appeared on February 27th and I'm reprinting it here.

A Case in Camera by Oliver Onions

"The tale I am setting out to tell has to do with the killing, on a May morning in the year 1919, by one young man by another who claimed, and still claims, to have been his friend." So begins Oliver Onions' 1920 mystery A Case in Camera.

Photobucket Onions is probably best known for his classic ghost story The Beckoning Fair One but the English writer produced more than 40 novels and short story collections in a variety of genres to considerable critical acclaim. His 1946 novel Poor Man's Tapestry won the prestigious James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In fact, the New York Times reviewer of A Case in Camera opined that those familiar with Onions' earlier mysteries, such as In Accordance with the Evidence (1913) would be disappointed. He goes on to say, however, that the book is "...solely on its own merits ... a very ingenious mystery story, here and there somewhat carelessly written, but interesting, well worked out and baffling..."

The novel begins as painter Philip Esdaile is holding a breakfast party at his Chelsea studio to celebrate his election to the Royal Academy. The gathering of friends, many of whom had served in the recent war, proceeds in a normal manner until Esdaile goes down to the cellar for a bottle of orange curacao. While he is gone two aviators crash onto his studio roof tangled in a parachute.. One of the men -- who in what seems a wild coincidence, is an acquaintance of Esdailes's -- has survived. The other is dead, not from the fall but from a gunshot wound.

The story that unfolds presents a fascinating mystery while managing to transgress most of the rules of the genre, starting with the fact that the journalist narrator is conspiring with Esdaile and his friends to keep the facts of what they refer to amongst themselves as "the Case" from the police. A cast of well wrought characters, ranging from a wealthy newspaper owner, to war returnees and a local political agitator, allows Onions to examine topics seemingly far removed from murder -- the state of society, the role of the press, democracy.

No one who has read The Beckoning Fair One -- which may as easily recount a psychotic delusion as a haunting -- will be surprised that A Case in Camera has a psychological bent. Crimes are committed by people, rather than by weapons or poisons. As the narrator puts it, "First one person acted as according to the laws of his individual being he had to act and another did the same, and then another did the same and so on until the phenomenon was complete."

Yet much of the novel's fascination lies in the manner the most peculiar crime was committed. As the facts are revealed, the method of the killing becomes increasingly inexplicable. And why was Esdaile in the basement for so long at just the moment of the murder? Why for that matter would the assumed killer have murdered his friend? And why are the friends trying to hush things up?

A Case in Camera manages to combine the psychological novel with an impossible crime. It is unruly, idiosyncratic, and well worth reading.

Read/Post Comments (9)

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.