If you have been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I often read books that I found as free ebooks on Amazon's kindle shop - free mostly because their authors have been dead more than 70 years (which means their works are, if not specifically protected, available to be published for anyone who wishes to do so) and/or the authors are relatively unknown today. Many of the books I have been reading through this rather random way of choosing were published in the 19th century, or very early on in the 20th century. So, the one I am about to review now is comparatively modern:
"Scarhaven Keep" was first published in 1922, at a time when people were already well used to telephones, telegrams, trains and cars, although it was still a long way from phones and cars becoming everyday objects for nearly every household, even the more modest ones.
It is a detective story set in a picturesque fishing village on England's north coast, Scarhaven, with the ruins of an old castle keeping watch over it. There are dangerous cliffs for those who don't know their way around, and even a place called "Devil's Spout" which the natives say is a bottomless hole where nothing that has gone in has ever come out again.
A young playwright arrives for a meeting with a famous actor and producer to talk about a play they want to produce together, only to find that the man has not been seen since the weekend. Everybody agrees that not turning up for an appointment is very uncharacteristic for the famous man, and the young playwright finds himself drawn into the mysterious case of the actor's disappearance very soon. It seems he has nothing better to do, and so he teams up with those who want to find out what happened.
In the course of the story, we come across murder (really?), an impostor, a young lady who is very sensible and another young lady who plays a rather mysterious role, her very unpleasant character of a father, a good-hearted poacher, a ship's captain who has more to him than meets the eye, an invalid curate who turns out to be neither invalid nor a curate, and many more. The cast is fun to look at (mentally, of course - there are no pictures, but you can imagine them all quite well), the places have charm, and everything is logically explained - something I really like in detective stories.
The reader never has to guess at "how did they do that?", but every time something is organized, the characters explain what they are about to do; who is to take which train, where and when they are to be reached by phone, and so on.
I really liked this book. There were some surprises, although the romantic interest was clear from the moment the woman appears in the book for the very first time. But romance is not the main feature of the story; it is all about finding out who did what, and why, and when.
Scarhaven and the other places featuring in the story, such as Norcaster and Northborough, do not really exist. But the way they are described, and the place names themselves being so similar to Scarborough, Doncaster etc., make me think the author had Yorkshire in mind.
Speaking of the author, I found a mini-biography about him here. Should I happen to come across another one of his books for free at the kindle store, I will download it.
A detail I found interesting: The sentence "mum's the word" appears in this book, just as "mug" used to mean someone's face. I didn't know these expressions had already been around in the 1920s.