Title: Jumping Jenny (Roger Sheringham Cases #9)
Author: Anthony Berkeley
First published on 1933; republished by British Library on 10 January 2022
Genre: Golden Age Mystery
At a murderer-and-victim costume party, amateur criminologist Roger Sheringham is settled for an evening of beer, small talk and analyzing his companions. One guest in particular has caught his attention – Ena Stratton, the wife of one of the hosts. Everybody seems to think Ena is mad. Nobody likes her either. When she’s found hanging from the decorative gallows on the roof terrace, Roger finds himself caught in the middle of a crime.
“Two jumping jacks, I see, and one jumping jenny.”
“Doesn’t Stevenson in ‘Catriona’ call them jumping jacks! And I suppose the feminine would be jumping jenny.”
The hosts of the party are the Stratton brothers. Ronald Stratton is a wealthy dilettante who writes detective stories because it ‘amuses him to do so.’ Roger finds the party quite interesting, all after Ronald’s ex-wife and soon-to-be-wife are ‘all smiles and friendliness and completely unembarrassed’. But there is one person who is disliked by all – Ena Stratton, Ronald’s sister-in-law. Some call her mad – the poor woman suffers from melancholia – wants to be the center of attention at all times, even at the cost of hurting herself.
After the party, the rest of the guests (the ones who would be staying over) retire to the roof for fresh air and a round of drinks or two. Mr. Williamson finds Ena hanging from the roof – without making a scene, he quietly walks to Roger and tells him of his discovery. It is pretty clear she’s dead. The police are called in.
The story starts on a boring note. Too many characters and too much of ‘partying’ going on. After the discovery of the body and Roger learning his friend might be arrested for a crime he did not commit – well, Roger is pretty sure Ronald and David did not murder Ena – Roger has to play detective and solve the ‘crime.’ While doing so, Roger finds himself in a hot mess.
The police have their doubts – something to do with the chair found below the body. Roger was involved in the ‘matters of the chair,’ so Roger needs to save his backside too, along with that of his friends. It was amusing (and borderline annoying) to see Roger and Colin force ‘alibis’ onto others (concerning Williamson especially) as well as try to prove that almost everyone is innocent.
But we readers are given a taste of the ‘invertedness’ of the mystery. Ena tries to gain attention of a certain somebody by saying she would kill herself and that person says, do it. Then comes Roger trying to solve god-knows-what; honestly, at times I wish I could dive into my kindle and ask Roger to make a choice: “prove it as suicide or murder, don’t alternate theories, I am pretty bored with the story as it is!”
I did not enjoy the book as much as my friends Kate, Ivonne or John did. You can have a look at Kate’s review here; you will find Ivonne and John’s on Goodreads. I remember DNFing Anthony Berkeley’s Poisoned Chocolates for a similar reason – too many characters and slow start to the mystery. I have read fancy-dress-themed mysteries but somehow, this book was not up to my liking.
Having said that, there was a final twist to the mystery at the end. I did not see it coming! After all, the court verdict is given and everybody seems to accept it… Hmm! How I wish there were similar twists halfway through the story to keep me piqued…
If you are a Berkeley fan or GAD fan, you might want to give this book a try. If you are a picky reader like me and prefer humor or action-like mysteries, well, I leave it to you to decide.