By Guy Newell Boothby
Guy Boothby was nothing if not prolific. In a writing career that spanned only a little more than a decade the Australian-born writer managed to turn out more than fifty novels and amassed a fairly sizable fortune.
I wasn't able to locate much background info on The Childerbridge Mystery, which appeared in 1902, three years before Boothby's death. I will say at the outset that if you're looking for that type of whodunit where an enterprising amateur or professional detective painstakingly gathers and pieces together clues to solve a crime or crimes, this ain't it. But I'll also say that in spite of this I found it quite entertaining.
Though it does contain a somewhat strong element of mystery, the book actually seems closer to an old-school gothic novel in tone and execution. As things get underway, widower William Standerton is preparing to move back to England from Australia, along with his grown children, James and Alice. After emigrating down under at age 16, Standerton made his fortune and thus can afford to lay out a sizable sum for an imposing edifice known as Childerbridge Manor.
Which isn't quite Otranto, mind you, but it's got it's gothic qualities, including a few restless spirits who seem to be keen on terrorizing the staff. Not long after the family moves in one of these spirits - the Black Dwarf - appears a few times and then tragedy strikes. Which is about as much as I need to say about the plot, except to point out that, though the crime at the center of this piece pretty much "solves" itself without any human intervention, though there is a detective on hand, halfheartedly trying to sort it all out, as does the younger Standerton.
Beyond that, probably the chief drawback of the book is the very small circle of suspects, which offers the reader little challenge when it comes to figuring out who actually done did the dirty deed. But, as I've already said, if you can look past all of this, The Childerbridge Mystery is a surprisingly readable book and rather bite-sized, to boot.