The Medbury Fort Murder by George Limnelius

MedburyThe Medbury Fort Murder came as something of a surprise to me. While the blurb certainly highlights the locked room element of the story, the novel could also be described as an inverted mystery and a traditional detective novel. And what makes that truly bananas is that it attempts to be all of those things at the same time.

The novel was first published in 1929 by the Crime Club and was written by Lewis George Robinson under the pseudonym George Limnelius. If that name doesn’t ring any bells it is likely because he didn’t pen many mystery novels and this seems to be the best regarded of the bunch.

Robinson draws on some of his own experiences of serving as an army medic in West Africa in this novel, particularly in the opening chapters where we learn Major Preece’s history and begin to build an understanding of the forces that will inspire him to wish to murder a fellow officer.

In these chapters we also encounter the man who will become the murder victim, the odious Lepean, and we see how little he is liked by the other men stationed at the Medbury Fort. We learn why Preece decides he will kill him and some general ideas of his plan but we may be a little surprised when the next morning Lepean is discovered with his throat cut locked in his own bedroom.

From that point on we would be getting heavily into spoiler territory but I will say that the remaining chapters present the perspectives of both Preece and the investigator, allowing the reader to understand what each are thinking and how they are trying to steer the investigation. They also present us with a little twist that takes the novel in a different, more traditional direction.

Overall, I think the combination of these styles works surprisingly well. Certainly better than I would have expected from a description. There is plenty of tension as we try to piece together exactly what has happened and because the evidence at the crime scene seems to so clearly implicate Preece.

The weakest element of the story is the locked room to the extent that I really debated whether or not to put it in my locked room category. The solution to how it was done is a familiar one and so sadly there is not much innovation there. I would certainly not suggest seeking this one out for the locked room.

The inverted elements on the other hand are much more successful and combine very effectively with the traditional detective investigation part of the story. I particularly appreciated that while we know what Preece was looking to achieve, we can clearly see that he had not left the crime scene the way he had planned. With evidence suggesting him as one of the likeliest suspects, we see him attempt to locate a more appealing figure for the Police investigation.

The investigation itself is a little tougher to evaluate, in part because I do not think it really lends itself to be viewed as a traditional puzzler. Certainly the reader could utilize the information they are given and make some reasonable guesses to come to the correct conclusion but it rarely feels like ratiocination.

Not that the detective really does anyway.

My biggest problem with this book relates to the world view and criminological beliefs of the investigator, McMaster who asserts the no violent crime has ever been committed by an educated man. That view is essentially derived from the most classist of outlooks on life but even if you ignore the inherent class prejudice, it is far too sweeping a statement to use to justify ruling suspects out of a murder charge. It is also quite demonstrably incorrect such as with the case of serial killer H. H. Holmes. I not only groaned when I read McMaster saying it a second time, I also took him a lot less seriously as a sleuth.

On a more positive note, I really embraced the novel’s complex characterizations. I was very pleasantly surprised by how modern Limnelius’ characters can feel. A few days ago I read Henry Wade’s Too Soon to Die which was written a quarter century later yet dealt with infidelity awkwardly rather than in the more frank way Limnelius presents the issue. Limnelius’ characters may still speak quite breathlessly but they do sound passionate and conflicted.

For much of this book I was really expecting to come here and get to post a rave review. I was gripped throughout almost all of the novel and I felt that the novel was building towards a special ending. Unfortunately I just could not see past the McMaster class comments and felt underwhelmed by the solution given which did not convince me.

As much as I like the novel’s ambition and its approach to character-building, at least for its central figures, the story does not match up to its inventive framework. With a better solution I think this hybrid form of mystery storytelling could have worked but as it is, I cannot think of a good reason to recommend it.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: An author you’ve never tried (Why)

10 thoughts on “The Medbury Fort Murder by George Limnelius

  1. My responses to this post proved something of a rollercoaster ride — dude, it is too early in the day to be played with like that! A locked room mystery I’ve not heard of! And it’s inverted! Oh, but it’s not a good locked room. And the detective is an idiot. But the characterisation is strong! Ohno, now what to think…?!

    Overall, I think I’ll leave it, but thanks for bringing this to my attention

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    1. Heh – having been on this particular rollercoaster I think you are making the right choice. Up until the last sixty pages the post I was composing mentally would have been largely positive but the dose of classism really derails the end not just in terms of personal taste but it also makes a mockery of the ratiocination process and careful clueing.

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      1. Hmm, makes you wonder why someone would bother to write that sort of novel if they’re just going to ride roughshod over the conventions you think they’d be out to explore. Surely it can’t’ve been that well-paid an undertaking…

        Mind you, I’ve read plenty of shoddy “detective” novels that do exactly the same thing, so it’s hardly a stand-out work in this regard…

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      2. I suspect not. It reads a little like a first novel – it has so many elements that the author is clearly wishing to include that I think the balance gets lost somewhere. And it does come close to working, though the method used is the most obvious way to work it if you were to sit and figure out how you would try to write an inverted locked room detective story.

        On Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 10:58 AM, Mysteries Ahoy! wrote:

        >

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    1. I was browsing through ebooks with the words Crime Club in the description and this came up in the results. I noticed it had barely been reviewed and seemed to be a locked room – the inversion came as a surprise though!

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  2. I remember reading this one and being A- or B- mused by the author showing us how bad the villain was by having him settle down to read the torture scene from Hassan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This definitely provoked a range of responses for me and for much of the book I felt the title was interesting, even if it was not wholly successful. Racism and classism are hardly an isolated feature of this book but because it is so tied to the detective’s ‘reasoning’ it is hard to ignore here.

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