By now everyone who visits Random knows I love crime novels. I have done all my life and it is such a joy to have the British Library reprinting so many of the classic stories and making them available again. The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley is one of the most famous classic who dun its. I have read about it so many times, not least in the wonderful book The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards, reviewed here, and yet I am ashamed to say I had never read it.
Well I have now.
And it is as brilliant as they all said it was.
Graham and Joan Bendix are a happily married couple. They have visited the theatre and they have a bet with each other as to the outcome of a play, the loser to buy the winner a box of chocolates. Well Joan wins and Graham mentions the fact that he has to buy a box of chocolates for his wife to a fellow member of his club, Sir Eustace Pennefather. Sir Eustace has just been sent a box of sample chocolates from a confectionery firm asking for his opinion on their product and, Sir Eustace, having no interest in so doing hands them over to Graham to give to his wife.
He eats a couple of them himself but leaves the rest of the box to Joan. Later on in the day he is taken ill with pain and vomiting and rushed to hospital. He survives but his wife who has scoffed quite a few of the chocolates, does not. When the police are called in and test the chocolates they find they have been poisoned.
Roger Sheringham, who has appeared in other books by the author, hosts a club, the Crime Circle, and they all get together and decide to see if they can come up with a solution to the crime, which has baffled the police. In turn each of the members of the Circle come up with a solution and a culprit and, as the reader will find, every single opinion put forward is workable and could be the right one. I fancied that I had got the right answer and was getting a bit above myself as nobody else had come up with this idea when, bang, the next member to promulgate his theory pinched mine. So I was nicely brought back to earth.
There was a hint in the above mentioned book by Martin Edwards, that Anthony Berkeley and E M Delafield were 'close' friends and one of the Circle members, Alicia Dammers seems to bear some relationship to the author of Diary of a Provincial Lady:
"Alicia Dammers, with her good looks, her tall slim figure and her irreproachable sartorial taste, had satisfied the very fastidious requirements so far as feminine appearance was concerned".
I shall view EMD in a different light the next time I re-read her Provincial Lady books......
A gem, a total gem, and there seems to end to the lost and now newly discovered books that the British Library are publishing. Long may this continue.