Ask a Policemanby Dorothy L. Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Milward Kennedy, Helen Simpson
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Lord Comstock is a barbarous newspaper tycoon with enemies in high places. His murder in the study of his country house poses a dilemma for the Home Secretary. In the hours before his death, Lord Comstock’s visitors included the government Chief Whip, an Archbishop, and the Assistant Commissioner for Scotland Yard. Suspicion falls upon them all and threatens the impartiality of any police investigation. Abandoning protocol, the Home Secretary invites four famous detectives to solve the case: Mrs. Adela Bradley, Sir John Saumarez, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Mr. Roger Sheringham. All are different, all are plausible, all are on their own – and none of them can ask a policeman…
This classic whodunit adopted a completely new approach: Milward Kennedy proposed the title, John Rhode plotted the murder and provided the suspects, and four of their contemporaries were asked to lend their well-known detectives to the task of providing solutions to the crime. But there was to be another twist: the authors would swap detectives and use the characters in their sections of the book. Thus Gladys Mitchell and Helen Simpson swapped Mrs Bradley and Sir John Saumarez, and Dorothy Sayers and Anthony Berkeley swapped Lord Peter Wimsey and Roger Sheringham, enabling the authors to indulge in skilful and sly parodies of each other.
The contributors to ASK A POLICEMAN are: John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley, Dorothy L. Sayers, Milward Kennedy.
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This is another highly enjoyable and attractively produced book from the members of the Detection Club (following on from the recent reissue of The Floating Admiral). This time the format is slightly different with just four writers proposing a solution to the mystery presented by John Rhode, rather than each writing their own chapter of a continuous story. We have the mighty Dorothy L. Sayers here, and my favourite Gladys Mitchell, but in an inspired move each write for another author's detective. The story of a despised media tycoon who controls many newspapers and can influence governments and voting patterns is surprisingly topical today. Mrs Bradley's caper is written by Helen Simpson, whilst Anthony Berkeley writes for Lord Peter Wimsey. Mitchell and Sayers write for detectives lesser known these days, Sir John Saumarez and Roger Sheringham respectively. It is most interesting to read these, as the spirit and feel of the detectives is captured by these other authors, yet they imbue their own personality and writing style. The Mrs Bradley chapter could be written by the great Gladys, whilst the Mitchell-penned chapter is clearly her work. It's lots of fun to read these mis-matched author-detective associations, as they are interestingly different but never seem jarring or inappropriate. Agatha Christie has top billing on the dustjacket, which is rather misleading. She did not contribute to the original book, her appearance here is a previously unpublished essay on crime fiction writers. It was written some years after this book and for a different purpose, but is interesting and candid, and something AC completists will want besides the great enjoyment from the rest of this book. A classic golden age tale, with lots of detail to pour over to piece the mystery together.