Dr. Eustace Hailey has an almost unsolvable problem in this new mystery by Anthony Wynne: Mr. Hall, international banker, is seen by fourteen persons to jump his big black horse over a five foot gate into a field, gallop onto the middle of the field and fall off. They rush to his side and find a hunting knife protruding from between his shoulders. It has pierced his heart and he is dead--murdered at that spot. The knife couldn't have been part way in and then been knocked through his heart by the fall for there is almost no blood on his clothes; it couldn't have been thrown for the nearest cover was too far away and Mr. Hall was in plain sight of fourteen witnesses. And yet a man with a knife through his heart couldn't jump a gate and ride a horse at a gallop....
|The banker could not have been murdered.|
Yet he most definitely was!
"Anthony Wynne" was a pseudonym of Robert McNair Wilson (1882-1963), a Scottish-born surgeon. Under the Wynne pseudonym McNair Wilson wrote twenty-seven Dr. Eustace Hailey detective novels between 1925 and 1950. Between 1925 and 1927 he also wrote a series of mystery short stories, some of which were collected in the 1927 collection Sinners Go Secretly. Many of these works revolve around miracle problems, impossible murders and such. In fact McNair Wilson in his day actually was one of the leading exponents of the locked room mystery.
|Robert McNair Wilson|
aka Anthony Wynne
In the 1930s McNair Wilson began publishing works of economic theory, such as Promise to Pay: An Inquiry into the Principles and Practice of that Latter-Day Magic Sometimes Called High Finance, which appeared in 1934, the same year as Death of a Banker. During the thirties McNair Wilson became economic guru to the famous poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972), who got himself into a great deal of trouble with his embrace of Mussolini during World War 2. McNair Wilson and Pound kept up a quarter century's correspondence, from 1934 to 1958.
Unlike Ezra Pound, Robert McNair Wilson, so far as I am aware, never actually embraced Fascism. Indeed, in contrast with Pound and confounding stereotypes of Golden Age English detective novelists, McNair Wilson highly praised American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal.
a reader of Robert McNair Wilson
if not, perhaps, Anthony Wynne
The influence of Robert McNair Wilson's political and economic preoccupations on the writing of Banker is manifest when one reads it. After Mr. Hall, international banker, is murdered--seemingly impossibly--during a hunt in Northumberland (a favored Wynne setting), it becomes clear to Dr. Hailey--who is always pulled into to these cases by Scotland Yard, being a Great Detective and all--that Mr. Hunt was definitely Up To No Good. Hunt was deeply enmeshed in the politics of the Baltic kingdom of Aland, which stands badly in need of a loan.
|Death of a Banker even has an abducted prince|
and a dastardly, dastardly villain
Here's a taste of what you get along this rhetorical line in Death of a Banker (you can be pretty certain Dr. Hailey is an absolute stand-in for the author here):
There was a heroic quality in Dr. Hailey's mind that had made him rebel from his boyhood against the self-righteousness of the great age of Progress. Work in one of the districts served by a teaching hospital had shown him the seamy side of financial industrialism, that system which decreed that, in the richest land on earth, women and children should lack for bread. He had longed, in those days, for the freedom of a vanished age in which a citizen had his dignity as man and Christian. And so, vaguely, without knowing why, he had recoiled from the achievements of applied science even while he had admired them. Machines, it had seemed to him, were fated to make slaves of all who served them and to lay upon humanity the frightful burden of a monotony undreamed of in an earlier period. But he had revised all these opinions as the result of his study of the banking system. It was not the machines that were hateful but the uses to which they had been put. The enemy was not science, but greed organized so that its strength was greater than the strength of armies.
Given events of the last few years and the rise of the Occupy movement, perhaps such passages as these might have special resonance for modern readers? It's certainly something different from the usual baronets, butlers and blunt instruments traditional English mystery stuff.
But how is the actual mystery part of this mystery, you may be asking! Well, the miracle problem is nicely done indeed. It's something that would not shame the master, John Dickson Carr. There's not much detection between the laying out of the problem in the beginning and the untangling of it at the end, but if you can accept the lengthy mid-course digressions on Baltic State politics and international finance, it is not a bad tale, all told.
Anthony Wynne has, for a mostly forgotten writer, had a surprsing number of blog reviews. Here are some:
The Red Lady (John Norris)
The Room with the Iron Shutters (John Norris)
The Toll House Murder (Patrick Ohl)
The Green Knife (TomCat)
The Silver Scale Mystery/Murder of a Lady (TomCat)
The Case of the Gold Coins (Bill Pronzini)
Murder of a Lady/The Silver Scale Mystery (Curt Evans)
Emergency Exit (Curt Evans)
The Cyprian Bees (short story) (Arun Kumar)