The Mannequin House
This murder mystery is set in 1914, but the historical setting is not a strong element in its pages. It reads like Golden Age detective fiction in terms of its style and the deft handling of the omniscient viewpoint with frequent shifts into the detective’s psyche. The detective, Silas Quinn, is internally tormented and under a cloud due to the high body count of recent investigations, and early in the novel the action seems almost unbearably suspended as Quinn overanalyzes minor points, including the fact that the officer technically in charge of the case wears an identical overcoat to his own.
Just at the moment where it seems the author’s gift for vivid, highly figurative description is being allowed to run wild to the detriment of the story, the locked-room plot resolves itself into an intense psychological mosaic. The plot itself—the murder of a young woman who works as a mannequin in the department store owned by Benjamin Blackley, a crowd-pleaser with a domineering, sadistic side—is relatively straightforward, but the way in which the unraveling of the mystery affects Quinn is fascinating. Murder mysteries tend to deal with the darker emotions, but in The Mannequin House it is the detective, the representative of justice, who seems to stand squarely within their shadow, to the bemusement of his colleagues.
R.N. Morris’s elegant writing style does much to sustain the reader’s interest, but where he falls down, perhaps, is in attempting humorous touches, especially with quirky, dialect-ridden minor characters. But then the same could be said of other Golden Age writers. When we look through Quinn’s eyes the prose is flawless. An uneven but compelling read.