In 1934’s Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay, Miss Euphenia Pongleton goes to ride the London Underground to visit the dentist and, deciding to walk the 220 stairs down to the bottom, she gets strangled with her dog’s leash before she gets to the bottom. It’s a leash she keeps publicly at the hotel where she lives, so anyone could have taken it. Promptly, the police arrest Bob Thurlow, the suitor of Nellie, the maid of Miss Pongleton, when they find a brooch in an envelope in her bag. She had labeled the envelope that contains the brooch that she took it off her maid and suspected Bob Thurlow of having stolen it. So the police decide that Thurlow murdered Miss Pongleton just for the brooch and got too scared to look for the brooch once he killed the woman. Because the family likes Thurlow and not the highly unpleasant “Aunt Phemia,” they try to help get to the truth to free Thurlow. However, they each have secrets that they are hiding from the police and from each other, obfuscating the truth from everyone and confusing the search for the truth from everyone.
According to the introduction by Steven Booth in the British Library republished version of Murder Underground, Mavis Doriel Hay started to make a name for herself as a writer of mystery fiction before the Second World War intervened. The challenges of the war interrupted most writers from producing their works because all were needed to help the war effort (Agatha Christie is a noted exception, having published 13 novels from 1939 to 1945, plus writing Curtain and Sleeping Murder, which she stored in a vault to be published at end of her life and posthumously respectively, all while serving as a pharmacist assistant). Further, with the reality that war could still touch them despite the “war to end all wars” and the introduction of the atomic age, general social attitudes changed, forcing mystery writers to change with them. These devastations iff war prevented Hay from writing more than her three books, which, besides Underground Murder, include Death on the Cherwell and The Santa Klaus Murder. Sadly, Hay lost first her youngest brother when his plane crashed in 1939 and her other brother when he was captured by the Japanese in 1940. Then, in 1943, her husband, Archibald, was killed in a flying accident with the RAF. So we are left with just these three novels, heretofore forgotten until their rerelease recently.
Murder Underground started off slow for me, but it picked up pace as it got further into the story. The details of showing us all the details that the family members have been hiding from the police and from each other add to the cleverness of the book. We start to feel the anxiety alongside certain characters as they try to maintain their tangled web. The conclusion was interesting, but I wish it had given us further clues to the solution earlier in the book.
The characters in this book all come off as suspicious, since we know that all are hiding things from each other and the police. Some seem bad, while others seem merely confused about how to deal with the difficulty situation thrown upon them.
Famous mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers was a contemporary of Hay at Oxford, though Hay attended St. Hilda’s College, while Sayers attended Sommerville, both women’s colleges. However, they were not allowed to receive degrees because they were women despite the fact that they performed all the work for degrees. They both were able to receive degrees when Oxford finally opened up the opportunity to get degrees in 1920. Sayers published the following quote in the 1934 Sunday Times: “This detective novel is much more than interesting. The numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail” (quoted from Carol Westron’s Writing Blog ).
The audio edition of Murder Underground is performed by Patience Tomlinson. While I felt she did a decent recording job, to be honest, I was not especially impressed. I felt that the book did not flow in the manner of the better narrators. The voices she used for the male characters did not suit them well, coming off as nasal and abnormal. I found her expressions to be adequate but not engaging. Her female voices did come across as believable, giving a redeeming factor to her performance. However, I was disappointed in it in general.
I appreciated Underground Murder but think I would have appreciated it further if a different narrator had performed it and brought it to life. The latter part of the book kept me fascinated, and maybe with a different narrator I would have gotten attached more from the beginning. I give the book four stars in story, two stars in performance, averaging to three stars in total.
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