Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review - Anthony Berkeley's The Layton Court Mystery

The Layton Court Mystery by Anthony Berkeley
Published by: The Langtail Press
Publication Date: 1925
Format: Kindle, 222 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Because of his friend Alec, the author Roger Sheringham has been invited by Victor Stanworth to be a part of his house party at Layton Court. Victor has rented a lovely house for the summer and has surrounded himself with friends. So why do they find Victor locked in his library with an apparently self inflicted gunshot wound to the head and a suicide note? Despite the fact that all the windows and doors are locked from the inside, Roger thinks that perhaps it was murder and it would be fun to play at being a sleuth. He has to have a Watson to his Holmes, someone who will be a dumb sounding board and willing to be berated constantly. Alec grudgingly takes up this mantle and they set about solving a crime that they aren't sure even happened. At one time or another they suspect all of their fellow guests, and even a mysterious "Prince." With the clock running against them till the inquest and their imminent departure from Layton Court, can an amateur sleuth and his reluctant Watson solve it in time?

When I sat down here at my computer and hammered out the details to my Golden Summer, I added Anthony Berkeley for the reason I have had a copy of The Poisoned Chocolates Case sitting on my bookshelf for... well, I don't know how long it's actually been there, but a dash long time. Yet when I got to reading up on Berkeley I found out that The Poisoned Chocolates Case was not the first Roger Sheringham book as I had thought. Because of Berkeley's propensity for writing under pseudonyms, or in this case, sometimes anonymously, The Poisoned Chocolates Case is either the forth or fifth book with Sheringham... so obviously, I had to start at the beginning and my poor copy of The Poisoned Chocolates Case would be neglected for some while more.

My initial impressions of The Layton Court Mystery was that it had more then a few striking similarities with A.A. Milne's The Red House Mystery, which I had just finished and loved. Sadly, where that one had wit and originality, this was just labored and had an angry tone throughout... or maybe it was my rage reading because everything grated on my nerves. I was more then once struck by how this reminded me of an episode of the BBC's Comedy Showcase called "Felix and Murdo." In the episode the hilarious actors Ben Miller and Alexander Armstrong, are Edwardians looking forward to the 1908 Olympics in London, this being aired to spur the fervor for last year's summer Olympics. The thing about the whole episode was that it was trying too hard to be witty and ended coming out crap. That's how I felt about this whole book. It was trying too hard. That and the fact that seeing as both Milne and Berkeley worked for Punch, that there is no way Berkeley didn't realize how similar his book was and I think Milne should have taken him out back, not necessary for a dust up, but maybe to school him in the ways of actually writing a good book. Or perhaps it's crappiness was why it was published anonymously...

There is just so much wrong with this book I literally don't know where to start... shall I dissect the horrid characters or the plot... decisions, decisions... ok, let's go with characters, because their stupidity made the plot drag and drag until I could barely stand it anymore. Roger and his "friend" Alec are the two most unlikable people ever. They are mean and snipe at each other constantly. I would say that they quite literally hate each other. I would never treat a friend in the manner they treat each other, a mortal enemy, maybe... but still, it wouldn't be as harsh as these two. Also, they act against character all the time. They say they are not prone to sentimentality, yet the act that Alec commits is the definition of being a sentimental fool and rushing in to save the damsel in distress. But luckily, they aren't Not to mention Roger is a bigoted jackass, and a hypocritical one at that who calls others bigoted! He looks down on the servants, whom having a discussion with "would be as ineffective as to harangue a hippopotamus." Also, his views on women... oh dear me. Women are all crying milksops that need a big strong man to protect them, and with their inferior mental capabilities "there's always the chance that a woman will" give away a clue. Though nothing compares to how Roger's antisemitism comes out. The line was so offensive I can't even bring myself to quote it. Unlike the pervasive racism that is in the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, Berkeley's was like a slap in the face. I literally cannot think why anyone would say something so offensive.

Now to the plot... or what I gather you would call a plot. It's really just two guys arguing and then arguing some more and at the end of the day, well... nothing happens at the end. It just sort of stopped. All the plot problems are because of the idiocy of Roger and Alec. Their attempt to solve the "murder" of their host is like a how-to guide on how not to solve a mystery. They look at the scene of the crime and then retreat into the garden and talk things out, repeat ad infinitum. Because obviously they can't be overheard in a garden? Why is this garden so damn secretive? Is it in fact The Secret Garden? NO!?! Well then, anyone with any sense can hear what you're saying. As for your host and resident corpse... you didn't figure out that his circle of friends are all people he is blackmailing till about 150 pages in? Well, I figured it out 10 pages in. Haven't you seen Clue? Ok, no... you wouldn't, but still, it was obvious. Also, why would you discount the fact that the killer was probably among the house guests? Why would you think an outside person was the perpetrator? Ug. But the worst of all, why would you think that a suspect would have the name "Prince?" I mean, the SECOND I read that name I was like, dood, that's an animal, as it turned out to be a bull, I was spot on. In fact, everything about this book was either bang my head against the wall obvious or so offensive that I wished to throttle the author. And here I go... getting ready to read his next book... am I a masochist? Yes, I think I might be, but it's all for you, my gentle reader.


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