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The Middle Temple Murder

October 7, 2009

The Middle Temple Murder, by J.S. Fletcher, is another bestselling mystery novel, this time from 1912. Apparently Woodrow Wilson was among its fans. And although there are some iffy bits–there’s something amusingly unlikely about the beginning, and one too many coincidences at the end–I think it deserves fans.

The main character, Frank Spargo, is a journalist, a sub-editor on a paper called The Watchman. Strolling home from work in the small hours of the morning, one of the policeman he always says hi to as he passes by is like, “Hey, check it out! We found a body; come see!” The policeman then invites Spargo to accompany the body to the morgue. Eventually an actual detective shows up, and invites Spargo to investigate the crime with him. It’s kind of bizarre. Throughout the book, everyone is incredibly helpful to Spargo. Witnesses show up out of nowhere to provide him with information. His boss allows him to lavish money on the case. The only people who aren’t helpful are the people directly involved with the crime. Sort of.

Really, though, it’s pretty good. There’s a lot of investigating, and a lot of different witnesses who don’t have anything to do with each other, which is always nice, because it gives an illusion of realism. Spargo’s visit to a club off Fleet Street is a high point, as is his trip to a town called Market Milcaster, long past its glory days as the home of an important race meeting.

It’s not a brilliant book, but it’s well-plotted and well-written, and there’s at least one genuinely surprising twist, and the exciting conclusion is actually a bit exciting. The Middle Temple Murder was more than sufficient to get rid of the bad taste The Mystery of a Hansom Cab left in my mouth.

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