Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Shape of a Stain

THE SHAPE OF A STAIN – E. X. Ferrars (1942)

E.X. Ferrars was a prolific writer of mysteries (70 over a span of 50 years) but I had never sampled one until The Shape of a Stain.  The frequently underemployed journalist and sometime detective Toby Dyke receives a frantic summons from a famous scientist:  Irma has been kidnapped and Dr. Virag wants her found.  Toby and his detecting companion George arrive too late to find Irma’s kidnaper but they are just in time to find her killer, for Irma is found dead, stabbed through the heart and lying in a curiously large bloodstain.  Did I mention that Irma is a chimpanzee?

Other detectives might catch the next train back to London in disgust, but Toby has a sense of justice and he’s intrigued by the obvious question:  why would anyone stab a chimpanzee?  The Shape of a Stain is a solid fair play mystery with clues and red herrings scattered throughout.  There’s an interesting cast of characters here, including a chimp minder who is not who he seems, a repulsive vicar, a stressed out housekeeper, an earnest doctor, and a blonde bombshell not overly endowed with brains.

I didn’t find Toby to be particularly adept at the detecting business, but his friend George is a whiz.  He solves the mystery while Toby meanders around testing his own theories with little result.  I admit I was led down the garden path on this one as I swallowed the clues Ferrars had planted and felt quite pleased with myself for figuring out the identity of the murderer.  A twist at the end wiped the smug smile from my face.  I’ll read it more of Ferrars’s work.

E.X. Ferrars and The Shape of the Stain are another entry in the Golden Age Girls category of Bev’s Vintage Mystery Challenge.

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