Monday, February 1, 2016

Required Reading: THE POISONED CHOCOLATES CASE by Anthony Berkeley

So, not long ago I sang the praises of Berkeley's story "The Avenging Chance." Berkeley later expanded it into a full-length novel...and it's even better. The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) is an acknowledged classic of the Golden Age of Detection, and you have to read it.

The setup is the same. A box of chocolates is sent to a raffish nobleman at his club. Revolted at the gesture, he gives the box to a fellow member who just happens to be nearby. Fellow member takes it home to his wife, in payment for a bet. He eats one, she eats several. He gets sick, and she dies. Who sent the box? Who was the intended victim?

This time around, Berkeley has his detective, Roger Sheringham, part of a group of armchair detectives, the Crime Circle, who are contacted by the police after they hit a brick wall in their investigation. There are six people in the Crime Circle, and each person takes their turn presenting their notions of how it was committed, who the intended victim was, and the identity of the perpetrator...and their own ideas of the motive and parallels to real-life crimes. There's no violence or visits to the crime scene here...each person does some of their own digging and investigating, and each hypothesis has its own merits.

And don't think that it ends the same way as the doesn't. The solution from the story is presented as a possibility....and then shot down by further evidence. The various ideas presented get more and more intense...and even include suspicions cast on other members of the Crime Circle, leading to interpersonal tensions. And when the final solution is presented...and everyone knows it's the right's devastating, and we're left hanging as to whether they'll be able to prosecute.

This is a hell of a read, and worth your time. It's been reprinted in paper format; so far unavailable as an ebook yet.

Anthony Berkeley Cox was one of the classic authors of the Golden Age; he wrote under a number of pseudonyms, and Francis Iles he wrote Before the Fact, which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock as Suspicion. I hope to review more of his works.

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