Man with the Dark Beard, page 1
The Man with The Dark Beard
“Nobody would have murdered him,” Miss Lavinia cried. “Everybody liked John!”
“I’m afraid it is evident that someone did not.”
The note left beside Dr. John Basted's corpse simply read: “It was the man with the dark beard.”
Dr. Basted hadn't approved of his daughter Hilary’s fiance. So when Hilary’s father is found shot dead inside his own office, the door-key turned from the inside, the fiance Basil Wilton becomes a chief suspect for Scotland Yard. Yet how could the crime have been engineered?
Now an important lacquered box is missing; a former colleague of Basted’s has suddenly shaved his beard; and the doctor’s ex-secretary has come mysteriously into money. Before Inspector Stoddart of the Yard can form conclusions, another murder takes place, again credited to the “Man with The Dark Beard”...
The Man With the Dark Beard is the first of Annie Haynes’ Inspector Stoddart mysteries, originally published in 1928. It is a sparkling lost classic from the early golden age of crime fiction.
“Miss Haynes, I think, improves steadily – this is the best detective story she has yet written.” Time and Tide
The Mystery of the Missing Author
Annie Haynes and Her Golden Age Detective Fiction
The psychological enigma of Agatha Christie’s notorious 1926 vanishing has continued to intrigue Golden Age mystery fans to the present day. The Queen of Crime’s eleven-day disappearing act is nothing, however, compared to the decades-long disappearance, in terms of public awareness, of between-the-wars mystery writer Annie Haynes (1865-1929), author of a series of detective novels published between 1923 and 1930 by Agatha Christie’s original English publisher, The Bodley Head. Haynes’s books went out of print in the early Thirties, not long after her death in 1929, and her reputation among classic detective fiction readers, high in her lifetime, did not so much decline as dematerialize. When, in 2013, I first wrote a piece about Annie Haynes’ work, I knew of only two other living persons besides myself who had read any of her books. Happily, Dean Street Press once again has come to the rescue of classic mystery fans seeking genre gems from the Golden Age, and is republishing all Haynes’ mystery novels. Now that her crime fiction is coming back into print, the question naturally arises: Who Was Annie Haynes? Solving the mystery of this forgotten author’s lost life has taken leg work by literary sleuths on two continents (my thanks for their assistance to Carl Woodings and Peter Harris).
Until recent research uncovered new information about Annie Haynes, almost nothing about her was publicly known besides the fact of her authorship of twelve mysteries during the Golden Age of detective fiction. Now we know that she led an altogether intriguing life, too soon cut short by disability and death, which took her from the isolation of the rural English Midlands in the nineteenth century to the cultural high life of Edwardian London. Haynes was born in 1865 in the Leicestershire town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the first child of ironmonger Edwin Haynes and Jane (Henderson) Haynes, daughter of Montgomery Henderson, longtime superintendent of the gardens at nearby Coleorton Hall, seat of the Beaumont baronets. After her father left his family, young Annie resided with her grandparents at the gardener’s cottage at Coleorton Hall, along with her mother and younger brother. Here Annie doubtlessly obtained an acquaintance with the ways of the country gentry that would serve her well in her career as a genre fiction writer.
We currently know nothing else of Annie Haynes’ life in Leicestershire, where she still resided (with her mother) in 1901, but by 1908, when Haynes was in her early forties, she was living in London with Ada Heather-Bigg (1855-1944) at the Heather-Bigg family home, located halfway between Paddington Station and Hyde Park at 14 Radnor Place, London. One of three daughters of Henry Heather-Bigg, a noted pioneer in the development of orthopedics and artificial limbs, Ada Heather-Bigg was a prominent Victorian and Edwardian era feminist and social reformer. In the 1911 British census entry for 14 Radnor Place, Heather-Bigg, a “philanthropist and journalist,” is listed as the head of the household and Annie Haynes, a “novelist,” as a “visitor,” but in fact Haynes would remain there with Ada Heather-Bigg until Haynes’ death in 1929.
Haynes’ relationship with Ada Heather-Bigg introduced the aspiring author to important social sets in England’s great metropolis. Though not a novelist herself, Heather-Bigg was an important figure in the city’s intellectual milieu, a well-connected feminist activist of great energy and passion who believed strongly in the idea of women attaining economic independence through remunerative employment. With Ada Heather-Bigg behind her, Annie Haynes’s writing career had powerful backing indeed. Although in the 1911 census Heather-Bigg listed Haynes’ occupation as “novelist,” it appears that Haynes did not publish any novels in book form prior to 1923, the year that saw the appearance of The Bungalow Mystery, which Haynes dedicated to Heather-Bigg. However, Haynes was a prolific producer of newspaper serial novels during the second decade of the twentieth century, penning such works as Lady Carew’s Secret, Footprints of Fate, A Pawn of Chance, The Manor Tragedy and many others.
Haynes’ twelve Golden Age mystery novels, which appeared in a tremendous burst of creative endeavor between 1923 and 1930, like the author’s serial novels retain, in stripped-down form, the emotionally heady air of the nineteenth-century triple-decker sensation novel, with genteel settings, shocking secrets, stormy passions and eternal love all at the fore, yet they also have the fleetness of Jazz Age detective fiction. Both in their social milieu and narrative pace Annie Haynes’ detective novels bear considerable resemblance to contemporary works by Agatha Christie; and it is interesting to note in this regard that Annie Haynes and Agatha Christie were the only female mystery writers published by The Bodley Head, one of the more notable English mystery imprints in the early Golden Age. “A very remarkable feature of recent detective fiction,” observed the Illustrated London News in 1923, “is the skill displayed by women in this branch of story-telling. Isabel Ostrander, Carolyn Wells, Annie Haynes and last, but very far from least, Agatha Christie, are contesting the laurels of Sherlock Holmes’ creator with a great spirit, ingenuity and success.” Since Ostrander and Wells were American authors, this left Annie Haynes, in the estimation of the Illustrated London News, as the main British female competitor to Agatha Christie. (Dorothy L. Sayers, who, like Haynes, published her debut mystery novel in 1923, goes unmentioned.) Similarly, in 1925 The Sketch wryly noted that “[t]ired men, trotting home at the end of an imperfect day, have been known to pop into the library and ask for an Annie Haynes. They have not made a mistake in the street number. It is not a cocktail they are asking for….”
Twenties critical opinion adjudged that Annie Haynes’ criminous concoctions held appeal not only for puzzle fiends impressed with the “considerable craftsmanship” of their plots (quoting from the Sunday Times review of The Bungalow Mystery), but also for more general readers attracted to their purely literary qualities. “Not only a crime story of merit, but also a novel which will interest readers to whom mystery for its own sake has little appeal,” avowed The Nation of Haynes’ The Secret of Greylands, while the New Statesman declared of The Witness on the Roof that “Miss Haynes has a sense of character; her people are vivid and not the usual puppets of detective fiction.” Similarly, the Bookman deemed the characters in Haynes’ The Abbey Court Murder “much truer to life than is the case in many sensational stories” and The Spectator concluded of The Crime at Tattenham Corner, “Excellent as a detective tale, the book also is a charming novel.”
Sadly, Haynes’ triumph as a detective novelist proved short lived. Around 1914, about the time of the outbreak of the Great War, Haynes had b
In a foreword to The Crystal Beads Murder, the second of Haynes’ two posthumously published mysteries, Ada Heather-Bigg noted that Haynes’ difficult daily physical struggle “was materially lightened by the warmth of friendships” with other authors and by the “sympathetic and friendly relations between her and her publishers.” In this latter instance Haynes’ experience rather differed from that of her sister Bodleian, Agatha Christie, who left The Bodley Head on account of what she deemed an iniquitous contract that took unjust advantage of a naive young author. Christie moved, along with her landmark detective novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), to Collins and never looked back, enjoying ever greater success with the passing years.
At the time Christie crossed over to Collins, Annie Haynes had only a few years of life left. After she died at 14 Radnor Place on 30 March 1929, it was reported in the press that “many people well-known in the literary world” attended the author’s funeral at St. Michaels and All Angels Church, Paddington, where her sermon was delivered by the eloquent vicar, Paul Nichols, brother of the writer Beverley Nichols and dedicatee of Haynes’ mystery novel The Master of the Priory; yet by the time of her companion Ada Heather-Bigg’s death in 1944, Haynes and her once highly-praised mysteries were forgotten. (Contrastingly, Ada Heather-Bigg’s name survives today in the University College of London’s Ada Heather-Bigg Prize in Economics.) Only three of Haynes’ novels were ever published in the United States, and she passed away less than a year before the formation of the Detection Club, missing any chance of being invited to join this august body of distinguished British detective novelists. Fortunately, we have today entered, when it comes to classic mystery, a period of rediscovery and revival, giving a reading audience a chance once again, after over eighty years, to savor the detective fiction fare of Annie Haynes. Bon appétit!
The Man with the Dark Beard
“Suppose that in the course of a man’s professional career he found that a crime had been committed, had never been discovered, never even suspected, what would you say such a man ought to do?”
Physician John Bastow asks this tantalizing question in chapter one of The Man with the Dark Beard (1928). In chapter two Dr. Bastow is found in his consulting room in the condition that any Agatha Christie reader would know to expect: quite dead, from a single gunshot wound to the head. A suggestive note on Dr. Bastow’s desk reads, It was the Man with the Dark Beard. Now Scotland Yard’s Detective-Inspector William Stoddart and his assistant Alfred Harbord, both of whom make their fictional debuts in this novel, must discover just who did in the doctor.
One of Dr. Bastow’s acquaintances, rival researcher Dr. Sanford Morris, did indeed have a dark beard, which he shaved, most suspiciously, soon after the murder. Then there are the various members of the household of the deceased Dr. Bastow (who was, incidentally, a widower): his lovely daughter, Hilary; his son, Felix (‘Fee’), who suffers, like the author did herself, from a crippling physical disability; his assistant, Basil Wilton, who has an “understanding” with Hilary that Dr. Bastow vociferously opposed; his secretary, Iris Houlton; and the family parlourmaid, one Mary Ann Taylor.
Nor let us forget Sir Felix Skrine, K.C., Bastow’s best friend and godfather to his children, and Lavinia Priestley, Hilary and Felix’s peppery spinster aunt. Like John Rhode’s popular series detective Dr Lancelot Priestley (a relation?), Miss Priestley is a determined and epigrammatic deliverer of home truths, allowing Haynes to serve throughout the novel delicious dialogue concerning the relationship between the sexes in Jazz Age England (note a topical reference below to “a harem”, one of several nods in The Man With The Dark Beard to the 1920’s craze for middle-eastern romantic themes, fuelled by the bestselling British novel The Sheik and the smash American film, starring matinee idol Rudolph Valentino, adapted from it.):
“That secretary of his has gone home, I suppose?”
“Miss Houlton? Oh, yes. She goes home at seven. But really, Aunt Lavinia, she is a nice quiet girl. Dad likes her.”
Miss Lavinia snorted.
“Dare say he does. As he likes your delightful parlourmaid, I suppose. In my young days men didn't have girls to wait on them. They had men secretaries and what not. But nowadays they have as many women as they can afford. Believe it would be more respectable to call it a harem at once!”
“Oh, Aunt Lavinia! The girls and men of the present day aren't like that. They don't think of such things.”
“Nonsense!” Miss Lavinia snapped her fingers. “Short skirts and backless frocks haven't altered human nature!”
Miss Priestley might have joined the spinster detective ranks along with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver, but she never emerges in The Man with the Dark Beard as a genuine sleuth. Haynes leaves detecting primarily in the capable hands of Detective-Inspector Stoddart, who in his debut appearance is described by the author as the antithesis of Golden Age detective fiction’s eccentric amateur sleuths:
Neither particularly short nor particularly tall, neither particularly stout nor particularly thin, he seemed to be made up of negatives.… His eyes were grey, not large. He had a trick of making them appear smaller by keeping them half closed; yet a look from those same grey eyes had been known to be dreaded by certain criminal classes more than anything on earth. For it was an acknowledged fact that Detective-Inspector Stoddart had brought more of his cases to a successful conclusion than any other officer in the force.
A keen-minded Midlander (like the author herself), Inspector Stoddart establishes, with the help of his young assistant Harbord, just what the man with the dark beard had to do with Dr. Bastow's murder--though not before there are two more unnatural deaths. “Altogether it was a marvelous edifice of crime, and it was within a hairbreadth of success,” reflects Inspector Stoddart near the novel’s end, after a too-clever-by-half killer has been exposed. One contemporary newspaper reviewer predicted that few readers of this “well-constructed and briskly told” novel would guess the culprit’s identity “till Miss Haynes chooses to let them into her secret,” enthusiastically adding that the author’s mysteries “have the essential quality of detective fiction in that they capture imagination and interest and make it difficult to put down the book until the last page has been turned.” The next year the triumphant Inspector Stoddart would solve The Crime at Tattenham Corner and deduce Who Killed Charmian Karslake?, before embarking, in 1930, on his final recorded case, concerning the perplexing matter of The Crystal Beads Murder. During the Golden Age of detective fiction, readers eagerly followed Stoddart’s progress. I suspect that modern fans of classic mystery fiction will want to do so too.
‘The fact of the matter is you want a holiday, old chap.”
Felix Skrine lay back in his easy chair and puffed at his cigar.
“I don’t need a holiday at all,” his friend contradicted shortly. “It would do me no good. What I want is –”
“Physician, heal thyself,” Skrine quoted lazily. “My dear John, you have been off colour for months. Why can’t you take expert advice – Gordon Menzies, for instance? You sent old Wildman to him last session and he put him right in no time.”
“Gordon Menzies could do nothing for me,” said John Bastow. “There is no cure for mental worry.”
Felix Skrine made no rejoinder. There was an absent look in his blue eyes, as, tilting his head back, he watched the thin spiral of smoke curling upwards.
The two men, Sir Felix S
Skrine’s brilliance had made its mark at school and college. A great career had been prophesied for him, and no one had been surprised at his phenomenal success at the Bar. The youngest counsel who had ever taken silk, his name was freely spoken of as certain to be in the list for the next Cabinet, and his knighthood was only looked upon as the prelude to further recognition. His work lay principally among the criminal classes; he had defended in all the big cases in his earlier days, and nowadays was dreaded by the man in the dock as no other K.C. of his time had been.
Dr. John Bastow, on the other hand, had been more distinguished at college for a certain dogged, plodding industry than for brilliance. Perhaps it was this very unlikeness that had made and kept the two men friends in spite of the different lines on which their lives had developed.
John Bastow still remained in the old-fashioned house in which he had been born, in which his father had worked and struggled, and finally prospered.
Sometimes Bastow had dreamed of Wimpole Street or Harley Street, but his dreams had never materialized. Latterly, he had taken up research work, and papers bearing his signature were becoming fairly frequent in the Medical Journals. Like his friend, Felix Skrine, he had married early. Unlike Bastow, however, Skrine was a childless widower. He had married a wife whose wealth had been of material assistance in his career. Later on she had become a confirmed invalid, but Skrine had remained the most devoted of husbands; and, since her death a couple of years ago, there had been no rumour of a second Lady Skrine.
Other author's books:
- Crow's Inn TragedyThe Master of the PrioryThe Witness on the RoofMan with the Dark BeardThe Blue Diamond
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