Thursday, August 9, 2012

FFB: The Whispering House by Margaret Erskine

Finch felt the hair stirring at the back of his neck. There had been something so unnatural, so - abominable was the word that leapt to his mind - in that tall elegant figure that he stood frozen. The dark silent house, the beleaguering trees, the sense of utter solitude, the corpse-white face at the window held him for a moment in the bemusement of a nightmare.




This seems to be the season of discovering exciting authors. In a couple of weeks, I have read John Rhode, Freeman Wills Crofts, Anthony Gilbert (and what a find that was!), and now Margaret Erskine.

On his way, to meet his aunt, Inspector Septimus Finch of the Scotland Yard, loses his way across the moor and lands up at Lome Abbey, the house of the Melafaunts. As he is about to tug at the bell, a corpse-like face beckons him from an upper-story window. Before Finch can respond, the face disappears. Though Finch is welcomed warmly, he cannot get that face out of his mind. The house too seems eerie and on the edge. Predictably enough, there is soon a knock on the door and the local police enters. Apparently, Inspector Fulton had received a call by one of the Melafaunts, Peveril, who told the Inspector that he had discovered 'something stupendous', and asked him to come over. Fulton is certain that the information that Peveril wants to impart has something to do with the recent bequeathing of the house - in suspicious circumstances - to Giles Melafaunt, a distant cousin, rather than Peveril's own sister Clare.

A search ensues for the missing Peveril and when his broken body is discovered a little later, it seems that the Melafaunts' bloody history of slaughtering abbots and killing wives suspected of being witches is about to repeat itself...

More than the mystery - which was pretty good - I enjoyed the humour in this atmospheric tale. There is Chief Constable, Major Grey, who honks into his handkerchief whenever something distresses him. There is the friendly banter between Finch and Freddie Dawes, who is in the local police and who, poor fellow, always has something happen to him when in the presence of Finch.

There are also the views of Inspector Fulton whose middle-class thoughts on the ways of the upper-classes are worth sampling. Here is one such:

Fulton's non-conformist mind was shocked. So that's what goes on among the upper classes, he thought, not without enjoyment. Young ladies practically naked, and licentiousness. Pride, lust - as a good chapel man the seven deadly sins were familiar to him. They ran now through his mind like scarlet beads enlivening the drab room.

Looking for references to the history of the period, I found that Giles' father was in the British Army in India so the son had little contact with the father. Also William Melafaunt, the black-sheep of the family, ambled off to Australia after bringing disgrace to the family. The colonies, it seems, were a convenient way to dispose off undesirable family members (or superfluous characters)  in the period.
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While looking for Margaet Erskine on the Net, I came across a fascinating discussion at Mysteryfile. Curiously enough, an interesting nugget of information mentioned three of the authors whom I have discovered but recently. John Rhode, it seems, wanted Erskine to be admitted as a member of the famed Detection Club and one of the members to whom he sent her books was Anthony Gilbert who didn't find her meritorious enough, complaining that her sentences were choppy.

For more of this discussion, go here.

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First Line: The dilapidated-looking racing car came to a standstill.

Title: The Whispering House

Author: Margaret Erskine (Margaret Wetherby Williams)

Publication Details: London: Sphere Books, 1967

First Published: 1942

Pages: 203

Alternate Title: The Voice of the House

Other Books read of the same author: None

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The book might be available in libraries or second-hand book shops. I borrowed it from a library.

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Submitted for the following challenges: AZRC, British Books, Mystery and Suspense, New Authors, Support Your Local Library, and Vintage Mystery.

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Books 


4 comments:

  1. Sounds especially good, Neer. Wow, you area having some good reading times lately. This is another title I'm adding to my list. I have to STOP re-reading my favorites and start reading all these brilliant authors whom I've overlooked over the years.

    I think one Fall comes and I have more energy, I'll begin reading more. Right now I seem to be taking a break...

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    1. Yes, Yvette, right now we are getting sporadic rains and as is wont my reading has gone up; and am enjoying discovering new authors.

      I hope you get this book soon as I have a feeling that you'll enjoy this book. :)

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  2. sounds really interesting, I'll put it in my TBR pile.

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    1. I look forward to your views on it, Rishi.

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