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Authors: Ianthe Jerrold

Let Him Lie

BOOK: Let Him Lie
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Ianthe Jerrold
Let Him Lie
A GOLDEN AGE MYSTERY

Murder begins with the death of a kitten...

Artist Jeanie Halliday is thrilled to move into a country cottage of her own, next door to the home of her dear childhood friend Agnes. But the countryside idyll isn't quite what she might have expected: Agnes is suddenly and unaccountably unfriendly for one thing; and then the neighbours are a little peculiar – old Mr Fone, obsessed with burial mounds; the scandalous Hugh Barchard; and an estranged mother taken to brandishing pistols around.

Soon after the feline victim is found, a shot is heard – the corpse of Robert Molyneux, Agnes's husband, is discovered with a bullet in his brain. Was Molyneux a meddler in sacred places, a secret lothario… or simply a man who knew too much? And how does the unfortunate cat fit in? It will fall to Jeanie to assist the local police superintendent and fit the pieces of a baffling mystery.

Let Him Lie
is a classic golden age detective story from 1940, written by a queen of the form. It includes a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

Introduction

A full decade after the publication of Ianthe Jerrold's
The Studio Crime
(1929) and
Dead Man's Quarry
(1930), both of which titles have been republished by Dean Street Press, another Jerrold detective novel, penned by the author under the pseudonym “Geraldine Bridgman,” finally appeared in print.
Let Him Lie
, Jerrold's evocatively titled third detective novel, was issued in 1940 by William Heinemann, the prestigious English publisher of both Margery Allingham's critically applauded mystery novels and John Dickson Carr's ingenious Sir Henry Merrivale detective series (the latter published under Carr's “Carter Dickson” pseudonym). During the ten-year interval between the publication of
Dead Man's Quarry
and
Let Him Lie
, Ianthe Jerrold had produced five mainstream novels; and presumably her adoption for her new mystery of the Geraldine Bridgman pen name—a transposition of the middle and last parts of her full name, Ianthe Bridgman Jerrold--was a move on her part to distinguish her more “serious” writing from any future fictional mystery mongering that she might perform.

John Christmas, Jerrold's brilliant amateur sleuth in
The Studio Crime
and
Dead Man's Quarry
, is nowhere to be found in
Let Him Lie
, his place having been taken by a young woman whom the author likely never viewed as a potential series character. The decade of the 1930s increasingly saw a movement in mystery fiction away from the improbable Great Detective figure of romance to more naturalistic depictions of characters impacted by crime, in the style of the realistic mainstream novel. Saddled in their mysteries with the popular Golden Age investigators Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and Roderick Alleyn, the British Crime Queens Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh never could bring themselves to banish the figure of the male Great Detective from their books (though after the Second World War Margery Allingham came close with Campion and Christie would write fewer books about Poirot). However, by 1940 Ianthe Jerrold obviously felt sufficiently empowered with her new detective novel to send John Christmas, already inactive for ten years, to the sleuthing sidelines. While readers of
The Studio Crime
and
Dead Man's Quarry
may miss Christmas, they nevertheless should derive much enjoyment from
Let Him Lie
, a superb vintage English country mystery.

In
Let Him Lie
the amateur detective figure is not some colorful and eccentric investigative genius but rather a young former art student named Jeanie Halliday, recently settled “in proud and lonely independence” at Yew Tree Cottage, the rustic Gloucestershire residence she purchased from her idolized ex-schoolmistress, Agnes Molyneux (formerly Agnes Drake) and her new husband, Robert Molyneux, owners of Cleedons, “that most comfortable of small Elizabethan manor-houses tacked on to the remains of a medieval castle.” Currently Jeanie Halliday is disturbed not merely by the round of dreary repairs that her new domicile requires (“Who would have thought that making oneself the owner of a small, a very small, cottage could involve one in such fearful, and such dull, expenditure? Jeanie had looked forward to buying a grandfather clock, a carved coffer, a four-post bed; and here she was spending all her substance on things like step-ladders and gum-boots and smoking chimneys and loose roof-tiles.”), but also by her friend Agnes's disillusioning transformation into a capricious and supremely self-centered lady of the manor. When the seemingly inoffensive Robert Molyneux is discovered shot dead in the orchard on the grounds of Cleedons, Jeanie discovers to her mortification that there is no shortage of suspects in his murder, including Agnes herself. Superstitious local villagers avidly speculate that Robert Molyneux was struck down by unearthly forces on account of his plan to open Grim's Grave, an ancient local tumulus enshrouded in mists of legend, but the rational Jeanie is a believer in more material explanations. Jeanie eventually will discover the truth behind the crime, putting her in peril of her life. Would she have been wiser to have let truth lie?

Let Him Lie
is an impressive detective novel with a strong sense of character and place penned by an author making effective use of her knowledge of period domestic architecture, archaeology and art. Ianthe Jerrold's twin sisters Daphne and Phyllis were flower painters who had once resided together in a London art studio, and in the 1930s Ianthe Jerrold and her husband, George Menges, a brother of the celebrated concert violinist Isolde Menges, acquired Cwmmau (pronounced “Cooma”) Farmhouse, a rambling seventeenth-century timbered residence in Herefordshire (adjoining Gloucestershire, the setting of
Let Him Lie
), spending much of their time there—all of which provided Jerrold with ample material on which to draw when she wrote her accomplished third mystery. Comparing favorably with other naturalistic detective novels produced in the late Thirties and early Forties by Christie, Allingham and Marsh, as well as by such talented newcomers to British mystery fiction as Christianna Brand, Elizabeth Ferrars, Dorothy Bowers and Harriet Rutland,
Let Him Lie
, happily disinterred after seventy-five years by the enterprising Dean Street Press, should find an appreciative audience today among devotees of classic English mystery.

Curtis Evans

Chapter One
DEATH OF A KITTEN

“Oh dear, oh dear!” said Jeanie Halliday sadly, picking her way over cart-ruts which one night's downpour seemed to have turned from iron to butter-icing. “I shall have to buy some gum-boots!”

She sighed deeply, for she saw no end to the things she would have to buy before she could settle down at Yew Tree Cottage in proud and lonely independence. A pair of steps, two more buckets, an oil-stove, a saw, a screw-driver—the list was endless. Worse, a builder's bill long as a medieval court-roll unwound itself every night on the darkness before she dropped off to sleep. Who would have thought that making oneself the owner of a small, a very small, cottage could involve one in such fearful, and such dull, expenditure? Jeanie had looked forward to buying a grandfather clock, a carved coffer, a four-post bed; and here she was spending all her substance on things like step-ladders and gum-boots and smoking chimneys and loose roof-tiles.

She ought to have employed a surveyor, of course. She saw that now. But Agnes Molyneux had seemed in such a hurry to sell the cottage. And Jeanie had loved it so at first sight, and had feared to be discouraged by the prosaic criticisms of a surveyor. Her old lawyer's remarks had been quite discouraging enough! She loved it still, but with more reproach than rapture in her love, like a lover continuing in thrall to a mistress fair without and false within.

At the gate which opened upon the footpath to Cleedons Manor she paused, with some idea of going up to the house and telling Agnes about the smoking parlour chimney at Yew Tree Cottage. But what was the use? At this hour, Agnes was probably resting, or trying on clothes. And Agnes seemed to see no reason, anyway, why she should be held responsible for the dilapidated condition of Yew Tree Cottage. She was perfectly within her rights, of course. Jeanie had rashly bought the cottage, and must make the best of it, smoke and all. She decided to walk on along the road and find little Sarah Molyneux at the stables and inspect the kittens, as they had arranged between them; for it seemed that Jeanie as a householder was doomed to add a kitten to her other responsibilities.

As she walked along, she thought about Agnes and tried hard not to be both sad and resentful. Miss Agnes Drake had been very kind to Jeanie Halliday some years ago, when Jeanie Halliday had been a lonely, impulsive schoolgirl and Miss Drake a mistress on the staff of a large private school. And Jeanie had formed for the aloof, gentle Miss Drake one of those fond, unreasoning, lasting attachments which parentless children so readily and sometimes so incomprehensibly bestow. They had both been lonely people, for Miss Drake also was parentless and had recently been bereaved of a much-loved younger sister. Jeanie had transferred to the elder woman some of her feeling for her dead mother, and Miss Drake had seen in Jeanie, and often commented on, a resemblance to the young sister she had lost. No one had rejoiced more than Jeanie when, in her last year at school, Miss Drake had left to marry Robert Molyneux, an elderly Gloucestershire land-owner she had met on a holiday abroad. Jeanie herself, leaving school soon afterwards to study painting in Paris, had not seen her friend for some years, but had fitfully bombarded her with long affectionate letters, and had accepted with joy an invitation to visit Cleedons and renew this affection of her school-days. She had fallen in love with Cleedons, that most comfortable of small Elizabethan manor-houses tacked on to the remains of a medieval castle. She had fallen in love with the grey stones and golden field-flowers and wide skies of the Gloucestershire countryside, and with the charming grey stone cottages that stand modestly along the quiet lanes. Finally, she had fallen very violently in love with little, empty Yew Tree Cottage and finding Agnes anxious to sell it, had bought it all in an afternoon for three hundred pounds and disregarded the ensuing groans and wordy remonstrances of her old family lawyer. She told herself, and him, that she had done a very practical, sensible thing. She wanted to settle down somewhere in the country and paint. And why not here, near darling Agnes?

It was only recently, since she had come to take up her residence at Yew Tree Cottage, that she had begun to wonder whether she had really been so practical and sensible, whether a studio in London would not have been a wiser investment, and finally and most searchingly, whether she really wanted to live near Agnes and whether darling Agnes were darling Agnes any longer?

For Agnes was altered. Or Jeanie was altered. Or both of them. And poor Jeanie was beginning to perceive that Mrs. Molyneux had no wish nor intention at all of playing a motherly part towards the old pupil she had once been so kind to. She was kind but distant. Friendly, but casual. No longer, it seemed, did Jeanie remind her of her lost sister. She seemed quite to have forgotten her sister, and her former loneliness, and Jeanie's affection for her, in the satisfactions of being Mrs. Robert Molyneux, mistress of a spacious country household.

“It's horrible when people change,” thought Jeanie, with quite a lump in her throat, kicking a stone down the lane and badly grazing the toe of her shoe. Agnes in prosperity seemed to have shrunk and withered instead of expanding and blooming. The cool reserve which had characterised her in her teaching days seemed to have grown into a positive secretiveness, as though she feared continually, and wished to forestall, demands on her generosity. The fastidious care she used to bestow upon her clothes seemed to have become an insatiable vanity for ever occupied with dress and beauty treatments. It was horrible when people changed. And horrible when one changed oneself and found only the workings of a critical cool judgment where once had operated the warm impulses of the heart.

BOOK: Let Him Lie
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