--The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), by Annie Haynes
One of Dr. Bastow's acquaintances, research rival Dr. Sanford Morris, did indeed have a dark beard, which he shaved after the murder! Then there are the various members of the household of dead Dr. Bastow (who, incidentally was a widower): his lovely daughter, Hilary; his son, Felix ("Fee"), who suffers from severe physical disability; his assistant, Basil Wilton, who has an "understanding" with Hilary that Bastow strenuously opposed; his secretary, Iris Houlton; and the parlourmaid, Mary Ann Taylor.
Then there are Sir Felix Skrine, K. C., Bastow's best friend and godfather to Bastow's children, and Lavinia Priestley, Hilary's and Felix' s peppery spinster aunt. She's the best character in the novel, providing conversation like this:
"The secretary of his has gone home, I suppose?"
"Miss Houlton? Oh, yes. She goes home at seven. But really, Aunt Lavinia, she is a nice quiet girl. Dad likes her."
Miss Lavinia snorted.
"Dare say she does. As he likes your delightful parlourmaid, I suppose. In my young days men didn't have girls to wait on them. They had men secretaries and what not. But nowadays they have as many women as they can afford. Believe it would be more respectable to call it a harem at once!"
"Oh, Aunt Lavinia! The girls and men of the present day aren't like that. They don't think of such things."
"Nonsense!" Miss Lavinaia snapped her fingers. "Short skirts and backless frocks haven't altered human nature!"
Inspector Stoddart, who debuts in this novel (replacing Annie Haynes' Inspector Furnival), is described by Annie Haynes as follows:
Neither particularly short nor particularly tall, neither particularly stout nor particularly thin, he seemed to be made up of negatives. His small, thin, colourless face was the counterpart of many others that might have been seen in London streets, though in reality Stoddart hailed from the pleasant Midlands country. His eyes were grey, not large. He had a trick of making them appear smaller by keeping them half closed; yet a look from those same grey eyes had been known to be dreaded by certain criminal classes more than anything on earth. For it was an acknowledged fact that Detective-Inspector Stoddart had brought more of his cases to a successful conclusion than any other officer in the force.
Inspector Stoddart determines just what the man with the dark beard had to do with Bastow's murder (though not before there are a couple more deaths), and villainy is punished and virtue rewarded, all in the classic manner. He goes on to discover Who Killed Charmian Karslake? and solve The Crime at Tattenham Corner and The Crystal Beads Murder before his career as a fictional crime investigator closed with Annie Haynes' death. Happily, all these novels are to be republished this year.
Note: My review of the James Edward Grant's very American and very hard-boiled The Green Shadow (1935) will be uploaded tomorrow. As you will see, it doesn't quite fit the occasion!