The Arnifour Affair was a big surprise to me, a pleasant one. And saying that is an understatement. I pretty much started with zero knowledge about what this book was about, other than the fact that it had a historical setting. Gregory Harris’s latest book narrates a mystery that is solved by old fashioned leg work and deduction. Colin Pendragon is as unlikely a protagonist as any I have met in the pages of a book.
The story is set in the late 1800s. Colin Pendragon and his friend Mr. Pruitt live in a London flat, looked after by a harridanish housekeeper cum cook. A carriage with an unusual crest draws up and Lady Arnifour commissions them to solve the murder of her husband, the late Earl of Arnifour. Colin and Ethan arrive at the estate to meet the cast of characters. The prime suspect is a gardener and his son, and the lady seems to be sweet on the gardener. The heir is an alcoholic who is constantly reprimanded by his mother. The daughter is a suffragette and the niece is fighting for life. The housekeeper is more than unfriendly and not too keen to help the investigation. Colin and Ethan soon deduce that almost everyone at Arnifour is hiding a big secret. Why have their services been commissioned?
As Colin and Ethan go about asking questions, the scope widens and they meet newer characters. Meanwhile, a poor East end boy petitions them to look for his young missing sister. Is one of the Earl’s spurned lovers the culprit? Why is the gardener given so much importance? Did the Earl anger one of his creditors? There are several likely outcomes and the story investigates them all one by one.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the book was the interaction between Colin and his partner. The writing is anything but frivolous and it was nice to read some text that was not simple, for a change. Scotland Yard is painted in a less than glowing light. In fact, there are repeated barbs regarding the ineptitude of the officers and detectives. This is a slight deviation from the usual image.
The Arnifour Affair will grab your attention because it is different. But it will keep your attention till the end because of its complex plot and strong characterization. A must read for mystery lovers, in my opinion!