Monday, September 7, 2015

The Two Tickets Puzzle

The Two Tickets Puzzle (sometimes known as The Two Ticket Puzzle) is a 1930 detective novel by J. J. Connington. Connington is best known to fans of the genre for his Sir Clinton Driffield mysteries (such as the excellent Murder in the Maze) but The Two Tickets Puzzle is one of his two mysteries featuring Superintendent Ross.

A body is found in a first class compartment of the 10.35 local train from Horston to Hammersleigh. The man had been shot several times. It’s clearly murder but the bullet wounds are very puzzling. Two different calibre bullets were involved but several of the shots to the man’s head did very little damage.

Superintendent Ross and his very thorough assistant Inspector Mornington manage to identify all of the passengers in the first class carriage and the third class carriage behind it. The murder could only have been committed by someone in one of those two carriages. There are plenty of clues and a couple of obvious suspects but Superintendent Ross is not satisfied by the evidence. And he has to explain how Farmer Chepstow’s prize ram was shot a week earlier - that luckless sheep may hold the solution to the mystery.

This is very much in the police procedural mould. It’s also quite similar in both style and structure to the Inspector French mysteries of Freeman Wills Crofts. Superintendent Ross’s approach to crime-solving would please Inspector French - Ross also has a passion for patient methodical investigations. He is the sort of policeman who will not even contemplate making an arrest until he is entirely satisfied that every single element in the case has been accounted for.

Those who dislike golden age puzzle-plot mysteries will groan at the sight of maps and railway timetables but devotees of this school will be as delighted by these things as Superintendent Ross. Connington demonstrates his ability to construct an intricate plot that almost equals Crofts at his best.

Superintendent Ross is not exactly a colourful detective. In fact he’s a lot less colourful than Connington’s usual series detective Sir Clinton Driffield. I suspect this is why the book was not written as a Sir Clinton Driffield novel - this is such a purely plot-driven tale that Connington needed a detective who would not distract the reader with his own idiosyncrasies. 

While the emphasis is on the unraveling of the complex plot the novel ends with a surprising amount of action - in fact it reaches its climax with a car chase and a shoot-out!

Everything a fan of golden age mysteries could desire can be found here - unbreakable alibis, the vital importance of piecing together the correct sequence of events, the importance of placing the murderer at a precise location at a precise time, an abundance of clues, puzzling forensic evidence, a focus on the tiniest details which initially seem unimportant, tangled motives, even a crucial will. Connington plays pretty fair with his reader - if the reader chooses to leap to conclusions or to misinterpret vital clues that’s all part of the game. The correct clues are there in plain sight.

This is in fact a textbook example of the fair-play golden age puzzle-plot mystery and it’s a joy to watch a master of the genre go through his paces.

Highly recommended.


  1. The only Connington I have on the pile is Murder in the Maze and it's been there for years, but I think it's time to finally dig him out. Everyone's really positive about his work. So we'll see.

    1. I've only read a handful of Conningtons but so far I'm very impressed indeed.