Review – Murder in the Basement

Posted June 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Murder in the Basement

Murder in the Basement

by Anthony Berkeley

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 224
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars

When two newlyweds discover that a corpse has been buried in the basement of their new home, a gruelling case begins to trace the identity of the victim. With all avenues of investigation approaching exhaustion, a tenuous piece of evidence offers a chance for Chief Inspector Moresby and leads him to the amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham, who has recently been providing cover work in a school south of London.

Desperate for evidence of any kind on the basement case, Moresby begins to sift through the manuscript of a satirical novel Sheringham has been writing about his colleagues at the school, convinced that amongst the colourful cast of teachers hides the victim – and perhaps their murderer.

A novel pairing dark humour and intelligent detection work, this 1932 ‘whowasdunin?’ mystery is an example of a celebrated Golden Age author’s most inventive work.

Anthony Berkeley was a clever writer, and never one to rest on his laurels. I’m not a fan of his detectives, nor particularly the way he wrote female characters, but Murder in the Basement was structured really interestingly, and it’s not the first book by him that played around with structure which I’ve read. In this case, the middle section of the book is a fictionalisation of the chief suspects, written by Roger Sheringham before the crime was committed, and which allows us to begin to guess at the motives — and identity — of both murderer and victim.

I found it a little frustrating to go so long without being able to guess even who the victim was, and I’m not certain that part was really fair-play. But perhaps it’d have made it too obvious too soon to reveal it earlier…

Anyway, the story itself is fascinating, and Berkeley’s playing around with the rules of the genre as well, so it’s not the cosy and neatly contained package that some classic mysteries are. I definitely admired it, even as I wished he could just once like a woman and portray one positively!

Rating: 4/5

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