Wednesday 15 February 2012
Eugene Jones - Who Killed Gregory? (1928)
I bought Who Killed Gregory? a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised when the book arrived with a dust jacket that wasn't mentioned in the listing. Three dollars (plus shipping) well spent! But was it time well spent to have read this obscure mystery? For the most part, yes.
The story is narrated by James Stanley, a doctor in a small Long Island town. Like many of the other residents, his curiosity is piqued with the news that an empty estate, the Grange, is to have a new owner. Curiosity, however, turns to bewilderment when, before the arrival of the new resident, bars are placed across all the windows. Upon taking the new owner, Wilton Gregory, as a patient Stanley discovers that Gregory fears an enemy from his past and despite learning that this enemy has recently died, Gregory believes that this man can still take vengeance from beyond the grave. "Crazy as a loon" is Stanley's diagnosis. At least until strange happenings begin to occur at the Grange; prowlers, thumping noises coming from the basement, the ghostly appearance of a luminous dagger in the attic, sightings of a ghost which can disappear before walls, and finally, the death of Wilton Gregory in a locked room.
Gregory is discovered dead in his upper bedroom by the servants and his nephew Paul. There are no marks of violence on his body, no sign of footprints or a ladder in the ground beneath the window (although Gregory has apparently fired a gun at someone or something) and no evidence of poisoning. Suspicion falls upon Paul Gregory and Dr. Stanley advises the help of Byron Hughes, a newspaperman, to solve the mystery of Wilton Gregory's death.
Who Killed Gregory? reminds me of the works of Mary Roberts Rinehart and her imitators. A large mansion, mysterious goings on in the dark, the possibility of something hidden in the house, frightened servants and a story recorded by a nervous narrator. Indeed, Dr. Stanley seems to be the male version of all those Rinehartian spinsters (unsurprisingly he is middle aged and unmarried). There is much entertainment to be found and Dr. Stanley makes for a humorous narrator, especially when facetiously casting his housekeeper in the role of least likely suspect. The story only falters with the explanation of the locked room mystery. It relies on a great coincidence and, while I'm not certain, it seems that the means of death should have been more apparent to the people who discovered and examined Gregory's body. Still, I'm favourably disposed towards the book.