Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Black Iris - Conyth Little

Cover shown is the 1953 Collins Crime Club (UK) first edition dust wrapper. Cover art by Stead. 192p.

Constance and Gwenyth Little wrote 20+ mystery novels throughout the 1930s, 40s & early 50s under the pseudonym of Conyth Little. Australian-born, they spent much of their lives overseas, in London, Mexico City and the US. Despite their prolific output - and their popularity during their peak writing years - they are almost unheard of today, and finding copies of their original work is hard at best.

I stumbled across this copy on Christmas Eve at a bookshop in NSW, for just $3.00! Granted, it doesn't have the wrapper (I found the picture shown on but it's the first edition nonetheless.

This was my first Conyth Little experience, and while I found it humorous and interesting, I also found it hard to follow in some places. The main character, Richard Balron, is constantly running through ideas and following up clues in his head, leaving the reader (or at least me) slightly confused at times. Also, throughout the first part of the book Richard seemed to be the main suspect, yet no one picked up on this, which I found hard to swallow.

The plot revolves around Richard, his new bride (and non-related cousin) Ada and their two slightly dotty elderly aunts, Miss Ivy and Miss Violet. The two sisters have taken to playing monthly Russian roulette with loaded pistols in order to settle arguments (as you do). Richard tries to stop them by replacing the bullets with blanks, but on the same day as his marriage he discovers Ivy dead, hacked to death and placed in a newly dug grave in the cellar.

There are at least five suspects: including three elderly men who all wanted to marry Violet and an elderly female friend with a grievance. The last - and obviously strongest - suspect is Violet herself, who has disappeared. When she is finally found - sitting in a chair in a hidden room of Richard and Ida's new home - she is most definitely dead, and obviously has been for some time. The field has been narrowed, and the discovery of Ida and Violet's secret diaries may narrow it even further.

The Black Iris is certainly no Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but it is an entertaining read - and well worth the $3.00 purchase price.

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