Book Twenty: The Poisoned Chocolates Case

The Poisoned Chocolates Case, Anthony Berkeley

The Poisoned Chocolates Case is a neat little mystery about a group of wannabe detectives who are members of a group called the Crimes Circle in 1920s London. They are given an unsolvable case by Scotland Yard and each member is allowed to try and solve the case on their own. I'll allow the back blurb on my edition of the book to explain the plot further (and far more eloquently than I):

The detectives are the members of the Crimes Circle--a lawyer, a woman dramatist, a detective-story writer, a woman novelist, and a little man called Chitterwick, with Roger Sheringham as the president. Provided by a Scotland Yard inspector with the details of the murder of a Mrs. Bendix, each member prepares a statement of his or her theory of murderer and motive. Piquancy is added to the situation by the fact that the chief characters in the dramatic story that is gradually unfolded are personally known to all present.

What makes it even more fun is that each member of the club employs different ways of solving the murder and ends up putting their own spin on the solution. Sometimes it seemed that Mr. Berkeley was mocking each member's profession a bit, in the best and most entertaining way, of course. For example, in a description of Sir Charles Wildman, the barrister, Berkeley writes:

There was no one at the Bar who could so convincingly distort an honest but awkward fact into carrying an entirely different interpretation from that which any ordinary person (counsel for the prosecution, for instance) would have put upon it. He could take that fact, look it boldly in the face, twist it round, read a message from the back of its neck, turn it inside out and detect auguries in its entrails, dance triumphantly on its corpse, pulverise it completely, re-mould it if necessary into an utterly different shape, and finally, if the fact still had the temerity to retain any vestige of its primary aspect, bellow at it in the most terrifying manner. If that failed he was quite prepared to weep at it in in open court.

And of course, he doesn't just have it in for lawyers. He makes fun of the playwright, the novelist, and even the detective writer (like himself) with equal enthusiasm. The end result is highly entertaining, because it ends up being more than a mystery--it's a study in characters and how one's own view of the world can taint your interpretation of what should be indisputable facts.

Chris ordered this book for me, and while I had never heard of it until now, research--um, I mean, wikipedia--tells me that it's a classic of the Golden Age of detective fiction.


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