False Scent (J.S. Fletcher, 1925)

Stevenege, the celebrated detective, is on vacation in the small English town of Alanschester. His aim is to relax, but he isn’t there 24 hours before he stumbles across the body of a man evidently murdered in the woods just outside of the village. Further, the set of siege coins (there’s a story there, but never mind, all that matters is that they’re valuable antiques) held by the local museum has been stolen. It appears that the dead man stole the coins and was then killed for them. Suspicions fall on Whatmore, the curator of the museum. He’s arrested but quickly and easily escapes, assisted by someone for reasons unknown.

It’s starting to look like a setup to Stevenege — like the whole town’s in on it. A shiftier bunch he’s never met, with several who seem to know much more than they’re letting on. But then Stevenege gets some help… a lot of help, actually. Too many cooks, the old saw goes, but this novel’s spoiled by too many detectives. At one point, there’s no fewer than six professionals and amateurs weighing in, including a mystery author.

After being tipped-off, Stevenege recaptures Whatmore, but is now convinced that he’s only a patsy. Whatmore makes a full confession, which doesn’t amount to much since he had nothing to do with either crime, but it leads to following the evidence trail to a new location and culprit… one that the reader probably suspected all along because it was blindingly obvious and hoped would be subverted with a clever twist at the end, but no. I’ll stand by J.S. Fletcher being a competent enough writer, but the man had no talent at all for detective fiction.

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