In June 1918, Divisional Detective Inspector Ernest Hardcastle of the A (Whitehall) Division of London’s Metropolitan Police is presented with a puzzling new case. Originally thought either to be suicide or a tragic accident, the death of the promiscuous Georgina Cheney, wife of a naval commander and originally from Malta, is soon proved otherwise. When it is discovered there are similarities to two other murders of wives with husbands serving at the Front, the net must be cast more widely. The common link to all cases appears to be a housemaid with various aliases and who also comes to a suspicious end.
Hardcastle is a most appealing creation: he has a gruff manner and a no-nonsense approach. His turns of phrase, combined with his suspicion of new-fangled inventions such as the telephone, add an amusing layer to his personality that make him stand out over most of the book’s other one-dimensional characters, although his loyal and often long-suffering off-sider, Detective Sergeant Charles Marriott, is also engaging.
The author’s knowledge of police procedures and societal attitudes during the First World War are well woven into the plot, but there are quite a lot of pedestrian passages involving this or that government department or office that tend to blur after a while. It also might have been better if the novel ended simply with the arrest of the culprit, as the ensuing trial feels superfluous with a final revelation that isn’t surprising. In spite of this, the novel is worth reading for Hardcastle’s character and his entertaining interactions with his fellow officers.