Saturday, February 14, 2015

Bearded in the Consulting Room: The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), by Annie Haynes

"Suppose that in the course of a man's professional career he found that a crime had been committed, had never been discovered, never even suspected, what would you say such a man ought to do?"

                                                --The Man with the Dark Beard (1928), by Annie Haynes

suspicious character
Physician John Bastow asks this question in Chapter One of The Man with the Dark Beard and in Chapter Two he is found in his consulting room, shot dead.  A note on his desk reads, "It was the Man with the Dark Beard." It's up to Inspector William Stoddart and his assistant Alfred Harbord to find his killer. Was it the man with the dark beard???

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!"
Hilary laughed.
"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!


  1. Good to know these will be appearing - thanks Curtis, really looking forward to finding them. Looking ahead, will this be the same Grant who went on to write a lot of John Wayne movies, inter alia?

    1. Yup, that's the one. A member of the Duke's company!