Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Knightsbridge Mystery by Charles Reade

Foregone conclusions
The Knightsbridge Mystery, a novel by English author Charles Reade, was originally published in 1882. The story takes place at a country inn called The Swan, located on Knightsbridge Green, which at that time was outside the city of London. Reade introduces us to the regulars who reside at this establishment and involves us in the routine of their everyday activities and relations. The peace and comfort of this rural retreat is shattered when one of the guests is murdered, presumably for his gold. Evidence points to a neighborhood drunkard, who is apprehended, tried, and sentenced to death. The inspector on the case, however, is not entirely convinced of the convicted man’s guilt.

The main problem with The Knightsbridge Mystery is that it is no mystery. Even before the crime is committed, Reade has already told you the identity of the killer, his motive, and much of his modus operandi. All that’s left for the reader to do is wait for the murderer to get caught. In that sense, The Knightsbridge Mystery bears less resemblance to most Victorian detective fiction in the Sherlock Holmes vein than it does to today’s cinematic crime stories, which often tell the detective’s and the criminal’s stories in parallel, the audience being expected to sympathize with both parties. In such villainless tales, the suspense arises less from the solving of the crime than from the emotional drama of the characters’ lives. In The Knightsbridge Mystery, however, Reade delivers the narrative in such a deadpan fashion that the emotional roller coaster of murder, inquest, and capital punishment is surprisingly flat and mundane.

The overall effect left behind by The Knightsbridge Mystery is one of frustration. Reade has crafted a complex crime story admirable for its legal and psychological authenticity. One can’t help thinking, however, that if it had really been treated like a mystery, with some questions left unanswered throughout, it would have been a lot more entertaining. When all is said and done, this book is a decent read but nothing to get excited about. Its brevity keeps it from being a waste of time. It leaves the reader with a suspicion that Reade may have the potential for great writing, and a hope that that potential is realized in some of his other works.
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