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Authors: Ianthe Jerrold

The Studio Crime

BOOK: The Studio Crime
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Ianthe Jerrold
The Studio Crime

“He is dead. It is quite impossible that he should have killed himself. He has been murdered. About half an hour ago. By a long knife passed under the left shoulder-blade into the heart.”

On a fog-bound London night, a soirée is taking place in the studio of artist Laurence Newtree. The guests include an eminent psychiatrist, a wealthy philanthropist and an observant young friend of Newtree's, John Christmas. Before the evening is over, Newtree's neighbour is found stabbed to death in what appears to be an impossible crime. But a mysterious man in a fez has been spotted in the fog asking for highly unlikely directions...

The resourceful John Christmas takes on the case, unofficially, leading to an ingenious solution no one could have expected, least of all Inspector Hembrow of Scotland Yard.

The Studio Crime
is the first of Ianthe Jerrold's classic whodunit novels, originally published in 1929. Its impact led to her membership of the elite Detection Club, and its influence can be felt on later works by John Dickson Carr, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L. Sayers among others.


Today what is known as British Golden Age detective fiction—that published in the period, roughly, between the two World Wars—is most strongly associated with four “Queens of Crime”: Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Sometimes Josephine Tey, who wrote a couple of detective novels in this period, is added to the royal company; and advocates have urged as well the case for crowning Georgette Heyer, best known for her witty Regency Romances, though she also wrote some sparkling mysteries (plotted primarily by her husband). Long forgotten, however, is Ianthe Jerrold (1898-1977), despite the fact that her two classic Golden Age detective novels,
The Studio Crime
(1929) and
Dead Man's Quarry
(1930), not only were praised in their day but anticipated the much-admired sophisticated Thirties manners mysteries penned by Sayers, Allingham and Marsh. The reappearance, after eight decades of undeserved neglect, of
The Studio Crime
Dead Man's Quarry
should give cause for celebration among classic detective fiction fans everywhere.

Like her contemporary Margery Allingham, Ianthe Jerrold derived her surname from a clever and creative family whose members often lived by their pens. Her paternal great-grandfather, Douglas William Jerrold, was a famed early Victorian-era playwright, conversationalist and journalist (for sixteen years he was a mainstay columnist in
), who once had been ranked as a literary figure on par with Charles Dickens and William Thackeray; while her great-uncle William Blanchard Jerrold, a journalist and author, had famously collaborated with French artist Gustave Doré on the book
London: A Pilgrimage
. Nor did the Jerrolds limit themselves, in terms of their creative endeavors, to writing. Ianthe's paternal great-great grandfather, Samuel Jerrold,the first Jerrold of note today, was an actor, a “strolling player,” who was said to have reverently kept a pair of the great David Garrick's shoes, which he invariably wore when he made his own dramatic struts upon the stage.

Ianthe's father, Walter Copeland Jerrold, an author and newspaper editor, in 1895 married Clara Armstrong Bridgman, who herself published a number of books, including a once-controversial three-volume life of Queen Victoria (published under the name Clare Jerrold). After the birth of a son, Oliver, who died as an infant, the couple had five daughters, the oldest of whom was Ianthe, born in London in 1898. Like her sisters—Daphne, Phyllis, Hebe and Althea—Ianthe was named for a character from Greek mythology. Having started writing “as soon as she could hold a pencil,” she had newspaper short stories appearing in print before she was ten and by her twentieth year had published two volumes of poetry and a pair of
tales, “The Orchestra of Death” and “The China Mandarin.” After working in a munitions factory during the First World War, she published her first novel,
Young Richard Mast: A Study of Temperament
, in 1923. It was the first of twenty-one novels by Jerrold that would appear over the next forty-three years.

The Studio Crime
Dead Man's Quarry
, Ianthe Jerrold's two Golden Age detective novels, are superlative examples of the form, manifestly deserving of modern revival. Before the Great War several of the Jerrold sisters had lived at a studio in St. John's Wood, London (twin sisters Daphne and Phyllis were flower painters); and, appropriately enough, it is in St. John's Wood where Ianthe set
The Studio Crime
, in which murder strikes, most memorably, on a fog-bound December night, when a dabbling artist is done to death in his studio. Determining who performed the dark deed proves a tricky question for amateur detective John Christmas, Jerrold's sleuth in both
The Studio Crime
Dead Man's Quarry

In Jerrold's debut detective novel one can see some resemblance to the romantic Arabian Nights atmosphere in books by the “man who explained miracles,” the great mystery writer John Dickson Carr. There is the fog, for one thing, plus a locked door to be dealt with, along with a cryptic message from the murder victim, a lovely vanished lady and a mysterious man in a fez (mysterious men in fezzes pop up, to my knowledge, in two later Carr detective novels,
The Punch and Judy Murders
Patrick Butler for the Defence
). At the same time, however, Jerrold sets
The Studio Crime
quite convincingly in a real place, peopled by plausible characters, many of whom on the night of the murder happen to be present, along with John Christmas, at a party in a flat one flight down from the scene of the crime.

Especially memorable is the celebrated novelist and playwright Serafine Wimpole, “a strong and over-energetic woman wearing fine and thin with the approach of middle age.” Serafine bears some resemblance to the author, then in her thirty-first year and herself fine and thin, energetic and accomplished. When a man she deeply admires appears to be dangerously implicated in the murder, Serafine becomes emotionally involved in the investigation, as does the reader with her, taking
The Studio Crime
out of the realm of the pure puzzle detective novel—though the puzzle that Jerrold sets for her readers is an excellent one, with an intriguing investigation and clever clues.

John Christmas, the leisured son of department store tycoon Jefferson Christmas, is a likeable gentleman amateur sleuth, drawn along the lines of E.C. Bentley's Philip Trent and possessed of a nose sensitively attuned to scenting baffling mysteries. His friend Laurence Newtree (the celebrated caricaturist), makes a pleasing Watson; and Jerrold's policeman, Inspector Hembrow, is a worthy addition to the fictional ranks of well-intended yet erring British bobbies, stolid yet by no means stupid. Hembrow, we learn, has worked with Christmas before, “during the course of the extraordinary affair known as the Museum murder, which had opened with the discovery in the early hours of the morning of a well-known journalist lying dead under a table in the British Museum reading-room….it had been Christmas who had first detected the forged post-mark which had formed the nucleus of the whole intricate web.” In the current case Hembrow again labors mightily, but it is Christmas who deduces and confronts the killer.

The Studio Crime
received high commendation back in 1929, with the
Morning Post
, for example, praising the novel's plot construction and good writing. J. B. Priestley was one of the book's contemporary admirers, as were, in more recent decades, two astute crime fiction critics, Jacques Barzun and Julian Symons, who at other times often were at daggers drawn. In Barzun's and Wendell Hertig Taylor's landmark genre reference book
A Catalogue of Crime
Jerrold's first mystery novel was lauded for its “amusing dialogue with sharply differentiated characters,” while Symons in his fine anthology
Strange Tales from The Strand Magazine
(wherein is included Jerrold's 1918 short story “The Orchestra of Death”) approvingly noted that
The Studio Crime
was “ingeniously clued.” That Ianthe Jerrold could bring together in momentary harmony Jacques Barzun and Julian Symons is yet another testament to the exceptional merit of
The Studio Crime
, a jewel of Golden Age detective fiction.

Curtis Evans

Chapter I
A Party at Newtree's

“No, don't draw the curtain for a minute, Mr. Newtree. Do you mind? I like the look of a London fog, when it's fairly thin, like this one, and doesn't hide the street-lamps. That one at the corner looks like a fiery cross with its long rays cutting the fog.”

Newtree, who at Miss Wimpole's first word had let go of the curtain with a sort of startled obedience, murmured inadequately:

“Yes...” and stood at her side, peering out into the fog and trying to think of something effective to say about it. He couldn't see anything, himself, except a feeble glimmer of light over the gateway of the court and a great deal of unpleasantly yellowish darkness; but he knew that if the celebrated Serafine Wimpole found the lamp remarkable, remarkable it must be. Laurence Newtree was a shy man, especially with women, and Miss Wimpole, whom he had not met before, filled his humble heart with terrified respect. It troubled him to think that he was her host and responsible for the entertainment of her and her large, scented, placid, smiling aunt. He couldn't think why Christmas had seen fit to bring these 
two ladies to the studio, nor why he himself had allowed it. He glanced appealingly at his friend, but Christmas was sitting magisterially on the model's throne, addressing an audience which consisted of Simon Mordby, the psychologist, Mrs. Imogen Wimpole, the aunt, and a lay figure draped in a Chinese robe which gave it, with its bald, featureless head and stiffly bent arms, the look of an old bonze. All of them, except the bonze, who preserved the enigmatic calm of the East, appeared to be enjoying themselves. Laurence envied Christmas his capacity for talking about nothing.

He looked at Miss Wimpole's lamp-ward gazing profile and thought of her plays, her novels, her press-notices, her lecture-tours in the States.... These things, combined with her femininity, paralysed him into an oafish silence. Yet at the same time the imp of the perverse, that imp within him which had led him half against his will from a city desk and a competence to Fleet Street and affluence, was noting down with irreverent hilarity the strong salient line of the lady's nose, the long bony curve of the lady's jaw, the cigarette dangling gamin-wise from between unexpectedly full pale lips, the long pointed hands like a mediaeval saint's, the long pointed feet like small canoes.

While the imp was joyfully tucking away an unflattering likeness of the lady in some obscure pigeon-hole in Laurence's complex mind, Laurence himself, his racked brain suddenly perceiving a useful connection between Miss Wimpole's profession of playwright and the state of the weather, was remarking brilliantly:

“It's a bad night for the theatres.”

Miss Wimpole did not reply for a moment, but looked dreamily out through the tall studio window into the fog which seemed to move and writhe in dim, drifting shapes like living things. Then she turned and gazing intently at Laurence with her small dark eyes, leant towards him and murmured earnestly:

“It's a bad night for most things. But a good night for crime.”

Laurence started slightly at this dark and unexpected pronouncement, and the gold pince-nez to which in a world of horn-rims he was still faithful dropped from his eyes as he stared apprehensively at the lady who had uttered it. Then he saw a twinkle under her crooked black eyebrows and a little line which might once have been a girlish dimple in her thin cheek. With relief rather than mortification he thought:

“She's laughing at me.”

Serafine's twinkle became a wide and sudden smile, as jolly as a schoolboy's. She stood up and gathered her brilliant Chinese shawl around her thin shoulders.

“Seriously, Mr. Newtree,” she said, and her clear, penetrating voice cut across and stilled the chatter at the other end of the studio, “it
a good night for crime. Don't you often think that if you were going to commit a murder you'd choose a foggy night?”

“I—I—no, I can't say I've ever thought about it,” stammered Laurence, and was relieved to see his friend John Christmas approaching them with an amused smile.

“Personally,” said Christmas, “I should hate to murder an enemy in a fog. It seems to me a poor, half-hearted, shamefaced way of doing it. If I had an enemy to murder I should get him alone somewhere in broad daylight and tell him exactly why I was going to murder him and how. We should then part under no mis
apprehensions, and the affair would be complete, rounded-off, artistic.”

“You'd be hanged,” said Serafine briefly.

BOOK: The Studio Crime
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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