Dead Men’s Money is my first J. S. Fletcher mystery. The novel dates to the golden age of mystery writing, the nineteen-twenties and -thirties, and is...moreDead Men’s Money is my first J. S. Fletcher mystery. The novel dates to the golden age of mystery writing, the nineteen-twenties and -thirties, and is an appealing “cozy.” When I read books from this era I always enjoy picturing the hissing steam engines, compartmented passenger coaches, and smoky railway stations that were such a romantic aspect of the time.
The story is set mostly in Berwick-upon-Tweed, a town on the English side of the border with Scotland, but the characters walk and bicycle about the surrounding countryside (often at night!), visit a stately home, and do a fair bit of travelling by rail. There is even an episode aboard a sailing yacht. The changing locales keep the unfolding mystery fresh and absorbing.
We see events through the eyes of a rather slow-witted but sincere young man, Hugh Moneylaws, who works in a lawyer’s office. His employer, Mr. Lindsey is the brains of the piece. He is always there to ask the sharp questions and shrewdly put two and two together while young Hugh dreams of marrying his sweetheart and tries to find the money to furnish a home. While none too swift - one wonders how he ever got a job with a law firm – his direct honesty and simple decency make him likable. I found myself rooting for him as he works past the obstacles standing between him and his girl.
Hugh becomes central to the tale entirely by accident. He hopes to earn some much-needed cash while running a mysterious nighttime errand for a sick lodger in his mother’s house, but instead stumbles into murder. The law firm gets involved and Hugh accompanies Mr. Lindsey on his various investigative rounds. The young man also sneaks in a bit of snooping on his own. Who the guilty party might be seems at first obvious, but the situation quickly becomes more complex, and a lot must be uncovered before the murderer’s true motive is revealed. A second murder adds a wonderful plot twist to what is already an engaging story.
Fletcher is a capable writer well equipped to handle the ins and outs of the mystery genre. I especially enjoyed the unfamiliar border setting and the book’s relatively brisk pace. Hugh’s obtuseness may occasionally try your patience, but the novel never bores.(less)