Thursday, October 1, 2020

J.J. Connington’s The Brandon Case (The Ha-Ha Case)

J.J. Connington’s The Brandon Case (AKA The Ha-Ha Case), one of his Sir Clinton Driffield mysteries, was published in 1934.

Alfred Walter Stewart (1880-1947) was a distinguished scientist who wrote a notable science fiction novel and quite a few mysteries featuring either Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield or Superintendent Ross.

Jim Brandon arrives at the Edgehill estate to have a serious talk with his brother Johnnie. Their father inherited the vast Burling Thorn estate and an enormous income and ended up with even more enormous debts. He then borrowed more money to pay the debts. The only way out is to sell Burling Thorn but they can’t because it’s entailed. There is a way around the problem but it will need Johnnie’s co-operation. Unfortunately Johnnie is both foolish and stubborn and he’s now fallen under the influence of a scoundrel by the name of Laxford. What really matters is that Johnnie is about to come of age and when that happens the tangled affairs of the Brandon estate are likely to reach crisis point.

To add to the difficulties there seems to be something going on between that young fool Johnnie and Mrs Laxford, a young pretty woman with hot eyes.

Jim was met at the station by Una Menteith, another pretty young woman living at Edgehill whose position there is not at all clear. Also staying at Edgehill is a somewhat disreputable chap named Hay.

A decision is made to go out and shoot some rabbits and a terrible accident occurs. Inspector Hinton is by no means happy with the circumstances, particularly the bloodstain situation. The coroner’s jury brings in a verdict of accidental death but Hinton feels that the matter is worth further investigation.

Inspector Hinton is a competent policeman whose main fault is that he’s clever, but not quite so clever as he thinks he is. He is also ambitious. He is very keen indeed to become Superintendent Hinton. A big case is what he needs and he has a feeling he may have found one.

The financial tangle is much more complex than it seemed to be and the more the inspector finds out the more complex it becomes.

There’s also the matter of the escaped lunatic, a man who may at times be quite sane and even sharp-witted and at other times have no idea what is going on and no memory of anything that has happened.

There’s no impossible crime angle to this affair. The crime, if there was a crime, has a number of very straightforward very plausible solutions. The difficulty is the number of entirely plausible explanations and the number of entirely plausible explanations.

Inspector Hinton, whatever his faults, is thorough and he is also more than willing to make use of Beauty’s formidable private intelligence-gathering service. Beauty is in fact a Miss Tugby, a servant with an extraordinary capacity for finding out about other people’s private affairs. Beauty provides the inspector with some extremely interesting pieces of information.

Sir Clinton Driffield does not make his appearance until very late in the story. This is also the case in some of the other J.J. Connington mysteries. Driffield is the Chief Constable and of course Chief Constables do not usually intervene in any direct manner in their subordinates’ investigations, unless the subordinate manages to make a complete hash of things or runs into a brick wall. Fortunately for Connington’s readers that is not an uncommon occurrence.

There’s some fascinating stuff in this tale about the extraordinary complexities that could arise when an estate was entailed, especially when a curious custom known as borough-English is involved. This is a legal custom that in some circumstances gives the youngest son the rights that would normally devolve upon the eldest son.

It’s not overly difficult to figure out the identity of the murderer. The real interest lies in how it was done (it was much more complicated than initial appearances suggested), and in the much more difficult problem of proving it. Motives turn out to be more complex than they seemed to be as well. Inspector Hinton does plenty of detecting, sometimes to good effect. He does most of the very necessary routine investigating. Of course Sir Clinton Driffield is the one who finally solves the problem. He provides the equally necessary brilliant insights into what the clues really mean.

All in all a very satisfying detective novel. Highly recommended.

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