Publishing year: 1950
I have already read this book before and seen the film several times, so I know how the books ends. Yet, it is such a great book that it is a pleasure to re-read it.
The book starts when several neighbours of a village called Clipping Cleghorn receive the gazette. There they read an advertisement in the personal ads, announcing a murder which will take place in Little Paddocks at 6.30 that day, and friends should go. Little Paddocks belongs to Letitia Blacklock, who lives with her friend Dora Bunner, two young cousins Patrick and Julia Simmons, and a tenant Philipa Haymes. Those who read the newspaper and decide to take the invitation are: Colonel Archie Easterbrook and his much younger wife Laura Easterbrook; Mrs Swettennam and her son Edmund; butch Miss Hinchcliffe and her friend Amy Murgatroyd, and the vicar’s wife Mrs Diane Harmon. All of them think that the advertisement refers to a murder game in which one person pretends to be murdered and another is chosen to be the detective to find out the murderer.
The owners of Little Paddock also read the advertisement and think that it must be a joke. First, Letty thinks the joker is Patrick, but he claims he has no idea what this is about. What Letty knows is that the ad will bring a good bunch of neighbours to her house, so she prepares some refreshments. That day all of those who read the ad come to the house, and the only one to mention the real reason why they are all there is the vicar’s wife, Diane Harmon, who I like very much. I think she is so transparent and honest.
When the clock chimes at 6.30, the lights go out, and then a masked man appears at the door, who flashes his torch around. Then two shots are heard, and then they see the man turn around, fall and another shot goes off. There is a big uproar with Bunny crying, and in the kitchen, Mitzi, the refugee maid, has been locked and is screaming. When Patrick and the colonel turn the lights on, they find the man dead on the floor, and Letty has been wounded and her ear is bleeding. Bunny recognises the man as someone working in the Spa hotel who recently came to the house, asking Letty for some money to return to his native Switzerland.
Detective Craddock starts the investigation. It is not clear if the man killed himself on purpose, or it was an accident. He proceeds to talk to the people who were in the house. He starts with Letty and Bunny, and also the two siblings, Patrick and Julia, who are second cousins of Letty, and they lodge in Little Paddocks as a favour to their mother who pay for their living expenses. Cradock also talks to Mitzi, who has very peculiar ideas about people around her. She thinks everybody has it in for her, and she expects the worst. Then he talks to Phillipa Haymes, who is a widow, working as a gardener on a nearby property. Phillipa’s husband died in the war, and she has an eight-year-old boy. Then he talks to the colonel and his wife, and the two spinsters living together, Finch and Amy. They all have the same version about the man, the shots, the torch blinding them and the last shot which killed him.
What Cradock knows about the dead man is that his name was Rudi Scherz and he had been working as a receptionist in the Spa Hotel for a few months. He was originally from Switzerland, and Letty tells the detective that apparently when she and Bunny were in the hotel, this man recognised her from the time she and her sister stayed in a hotel in Switzerland, but Letty doesn’t remember having seen him there. Then the man appeared one day in Little Paddocks, asking her for money to return to Switzerland, but she turned him down. Letty thinks that the man used that excuse to spy on the house so that he could later sneak inside. He was the one to place the advertisement in the gazette.
I know who the culprit is, so it is interesting to read the book from a different perspective.