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Mystery Book Review: The Case of Miss Elliott: The Teahouse Detective, Baroness Orczy (1905, 2019)

Mysteries! There is no such thing as a mystery in connection with any crime, provided intelligence is brought to bear upon its investigation. - Baroness Orczy

I've had the Baroness Orczy's "The Old Man in the Corner" short stories series on my "should read" list for ages, ever since I read Agatha Christie's Partners in Crime, where she spoofs a variety of popular detectives story styles, including The Old Man in the Corner. I was delighted to dig into the second volume of her stories, The Case of Miss Elliott, which is being reissued in August.

For the uninitiated, all the stories are set in an ABC tea shop, with The Old Man in the Corner laying out the facts of a popular sensationalist crime of the day to Polly Burton, a news reporter. The Old Man devours cheesecake and milk while making knots with a piece of string as he and Polly discuss each crime. The Old Man is able to unravel each tricky tale, although no action is ever taken, and the culprits are never brought to justice.

The stories are short and sweet, focused on unraveling each little puzzle. These are not incredibly complex puzzles - I was able to piece together most of them without too much trouble, although I imagine they were more startling at the time. However, this is partly because they're always scrupulously fair - Orczy always gives you enough information to work out a solution along with the Old Man.

Particular highlights in this collection were:

  • "The Case of Miss Elliott," where a lady doctor is murdered under mysterious circumstances - but the most likely suspect has a seemingly perfect alibi.

  • "Who Stole the Black Diamonds?", which is clearly riffing on "A Scandal in Bohemia," as well as being a clever story around a theft that may not have been a theft at all.

  • "The Lisson Grove Mystery", where the remains of an invalided man are found in a parcel miles from his home, but no one could have killed him after he was last seen: another alibi-heavy story.

In summary: 3.5 Sherlocks. Recommended in particular for someone who's looking for short stories that remind them of Holmes, and for anyone who loves Victorian and Edwardian detective stories, as The Old Man in the Corner stories should be a part of their collection. I'd personally enjoy along with Polly's tea and bun, rather than The Old Man's milk and cheesecake.

I received an advance review copy from Pushkin Press. As an Amazon affiliate, I use Amazon links where possible, but you can find your nearest indie bookstore here.

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