Book Review: Molly Thynne’s Golden Age crime stories

Mary Thynne, Murder on the Enriqueta, Dr Constantine, murder mystery, detective, crime novel, Golden Age, British mystery

This week is all about authors whose books I cannot put down!

As you can tell, I’m a huge fan of the Golden Age of detective fiction and I’ve been loving the new releases of lesser-known detective authors from the era, particularly the British Library Crime Classics collection. Now in the midst of searching for some new BLCC authors to come across, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering Molly Thynne and her amateur sleuth Dr Constantine.

Mary ‘Molly’ Hariette Thynne had quite the pedigree background. She was born into aristocracy on her father’s side (her father was the grandson of the second Marquess of Bath with the stunning Longleat as the family seat), and descended from artists on the other (her mother was the daughter of Sir Francis Seymour Haden, the English etcher, and niece of the American artist James Whistler). She grew up in London where she met authors like Rudyard Kipling and Henry James, so it’s no wonder she eventually tried her hand at writing, publishing a total of six mystery novels and one novel, The Uncertain Glory.

Dean Street Press has recently made Thynne’s books available on Kindle and, like SL Huang’s Cas Russell series, I swiftly gobbled them all up. Like most Golden Age mystery novels, they are not very long but they are certainly meaty enough to satisfy any reader. I’ve previously complained about the abrupt endings in many of the British Library Crime Classics I’ve read, but with Thynne, I had nothing of that sort to fear from. Plus, the characters. I cannot help loving all her characters, and even some of the villains! Thynne does human drama and relationships very well; this theme is the standout of her novels, more so than the plots, and I think that is what makes her books especially good. Some readers might find a few characters too good and ‘noble’ for reality (a couple of times, characters who refuse to see they are in danger due to their ‘noble outlook on life’ had me ready to rip my hair out with frustration), but that was the only complaint I had about the books, overall. Oh, and also there are a few hints of racism, sexism and xenophobia, but sadly that’s to be expected as a product of Thynne’s time.

You know I’m forever comparing every Golden Age crime author I come across to the reigning supreme Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie, and in my personal opinion, Thynne’s books have come extremely close to ranking alongside AC’s! The books contain laugh-out-loud humor, in-depth character exploration, a lovely insight into British life in Thynne’s day (ranging from the aristocrats and artists Thynne grew up with to the chambermaids and newsagents on the streets), and great plot twists that kept me guessing throughout the novels. I read The Murder on the Enriqueta, for example, firmly believing I had the plot twist all figured out, but there was yet another at the end that took me by surprise!

Then there’s Dr Constantine. I firmly believe if Thynne had continued to write more books, the amateur sleuth and chess master Dr Constantine would have been as famous as other fictional detective luminaries like Poirot and Marple , Holmes and Wimsey, Father Brown and Peabody. Here, Constantine’s aide is the Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Arkwright, who happens to be a lot smarter than the average bumbling sidekick like Watson or Hastings. I actually thought it was kind of nice to see such a nicely balanced, equal partnership between the two. And Constantine is also aided in his investigations by his prim and proper valet Manners, whose delight in his detective activities I thoroughly enjoyed!

Side note: Thynne has featured at least two valets in her novels who seem like absolute gems, always incredibly solicitous and protective of their masters, and providing a lot of humour along the way. I feel like I too need a valet like that!

A short summary of Thynne’s novels follows:

The Draycott Murder Mystery – On a wild windy night a farmer comes home to find a strange beautiful woman dead in his sitting room. Who is she and who killed her? And how did she end up in a lonely farmhouse in the middle of nowhere?

The Murder on the Enriqueta – A passenger onboard the ship Enriqueta on its return from South America to England is found murdered. Chief Inspector Shand, who is also onboard the ship, finds himself stymied by the case. But one thing he does know is it’s somehow related to a mysterious widow and an heir to a fortune.

The Case of Sir Adam Braid – The cantankerous (and rich) artist Sir Adam Braid is found dead in his London flat and Chief-Inspector Fenn must find out who did it – and to do so, he comes across a number of humorous oddballs and mysterious goings-on amongst the occupants of the neighboring flats.

The Crime at the Noah’s Ark – This book introduces amateur sleuth Dr Constantine in a classic whodunit as a group of strangers find themselves snowed in at an inn. A fabulous emerald girdle is stolen and someone is murdered, and shenanigans ensue as the inn’s guests strive to find out who the killer is.

Death in the Dentist’s Chair – Dr Constantine makes a visit to the dentist only to find the wife of a jeweler murdered in the surgery – and the fabulous jewels around her neck stolen. To find out who the murderer is, he must delve into the past in the world of theatricals and Russian spies.

He Dies and Makes No Sign – The final Dr Constantine novel, featuring the death of a violinist. What connection does it have to the fashionable Trastevere restaurant and the Duchess of Steynes and her family?

Discerning AC fans might notice some similarities to the Queen of Crime’s novels – The Crime at the Noah’s Ark, the Draycott Murder Mystery and Death in the Dentist Chair, for example, all bear resemblances in plot premise to The Mousetrap, The Body at the Library, and One, Two Buckle My Shoe. However, rest assured, the stories vary greatly and Thynne’s novels retain their own unique plot twists, humor and some very memorable characters, particularly in The Noah’s Ark. In fact, my top two picks of Thynne’s novels would have to be Noah’s Ark, which plays host to some very memorable characters (and villains!) and The Draycott Murder Mystery, which features a very beautiful, very poignant love story that had me in tears.


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