This is the third in Anderson’s series featuring Inspector Wilkins and the residents of Alderley, an English country estate. This is also the third baffling murder to take place at Alderley amidst a large gathering of suspects. It may seem a little far-fetched that Anderson has not moved his scene of crime in three books, but I can assure you that it works, largely in part because the Wilkins books are delightful send-ups of the country house murder. The rest of the appeal lies in the characters: Alderley’s residents, aristrocratic yet down-to-earth Earl and Countess of Burford and their feisty daughter Geraldine; and, of course, the lugubrious Inspector Wilkins himself.
An elderly aunt passes away, and family members are gathering at Alderley for the wake and will-reading. Among them are an MP, a barrister, a distant cousin just arrived from the States, and an evil stepmother. The stepmother, Clara Saunders, is a most loathsome character who supports herself by selling peoples’ shameful secrets to the press. Snubbed at the will-reading, Clara makes a scene, claims to know dirty secrets about the family members present, and threatens to expose them in revenge. She then storms out, leaving the reader in no doubt who the murder victim is going to be.
What happens next is quite predictable: Clara is murdered, Inspector Wilkins arrives, the suspect interviews begin, and so do the lies. As usual, Wilkins seems rather absent-minded and incompetent, uttering his mournful catchphrase, “I’m not sanguine, not sanguine at all.” He gradually exposes the lies, however, and produces explanations for all of the red herrings (why 39 cufflinks were left scattered around the body, for example). And of course Lady Geraldine launches enthusiastically into amateur detecting.
Anderson is obviously enjoying himself, and the reader reaps the benefits. As familiar and comfortable as a Christie novel, The Affair of the 39 Cufflinks is nevertheless full of fun twists and red herrings, and is quite a jolly smashing mystery to boot.
It’s not necessary to have read the first two titles in this series to enjoy this one, but knowing about the two previous murders at Alderley helps to put things in context. Try The Affair of the Bloodstained Egg Cosy, then The Affair of the Mutilated Mink.