Morris, R N - 'The Mannequin House'
It is April, 1914 in London and Detective Inspector Silas Quinn of Scotland Yard has been advised that there has been a murder in a prominent department store in Kensington and with his two-man team he goes hurriedly there. It appears that the owner of the shop, Benjamin Blackley, was a very hands-on proprietor in the running of his store and in order to attract a higher class of customer to the ladies fashions he organised regular fashion shows. The mannequins who paraded the dresses at the shop were housed in a separate house in an adjacent street and when one girl did not appear for a particular show, Blackley sent one of his assistants to the house to find out where she was and perhaps wake her up if she had overslept. The girl mannequin was discovered dead in her bedroom, strangled with a red scarf, but the room was mysteriously locked from the inside. There was a monkey in the room who was actually persuaded to open the door for the assistant who discovered the girl. Silas immediately starts his investigation but has great difficulty in getting the owner of the store to co-operate as the proprietor does not want to upset his continued operation of Blackleys Department Store.
The monkey, which Silas does not believe is the killer of the poor unfortunate girl, has disappeared and just cannot be located. There were in total, six mannequins staying in the mannequin house and there was a lot of jealousy between the girls. Although most of the girls were from London Mr Blackley urged them to use French names and to communicate in French to make them appear more exotic, and living in the house with them was a Monsieur Hugo. Also Mr Blackley was thought to spend nights there from time to time with whichever girl he was thought to fancy. Silas has great difficulty in making any progress in his investigation and he is badgered all the time by his Superintendent who has a great dislike for him, as on a previous case a number of deaths occurred which he believes Silas could have avoided. As the case goes on there are a few more deaths which Silas's boss again thinks should have been avoided and he asks a local inspector to take control, which upsets Silas greatly. This excellent police procedural rushes on to its ultimate and rather surprising conclusion.
The author's idea of located the crime within the confines of a upmarket department store was very novel, although it reminded me perhaps inevitably of a famous Knightsbridge store. The clever combination of historical detail and crime fiction is utterly unmissable and it was a gripping plot with many dramatic twists and turns which kept me guessing until the final page.
I thought that this was an excellent historical mystery book with a very intelligent and historically accurate plot. I have not read his previous Silas Quinn book, SUMMON UP THE BLOOD, but I did enjoy his fourth book, THE CLEANSING FLAMES in the acclaimed series in which he features the investigator Porfiry Petrovitch, originally created by Dostoevsky in Crime and Punishment.
Terry Halligan, England