A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case has a reputation for being a particularly tricky puzzle of a mystery novel. It’s why I picked it up. It certainly didn’t disappoint on that account, but what an unexpected joy it was to discover that it’s also a bit funny, full of lively characters, and kept me turning the pages for more than just the solution at the end.
The story centers around a “crime circle” made up of six crime and detection fans, including a lawyer, a playwright, and (of course) a mystery novelist. They meet regularly to discuss their shared interests and nothing more, until one day the chance to do some actual sleuthing of their own is thrust upon them. It’s what I would normally call a contrived, unrealistic set-up, if not for the fact that Anthony Berkeley was one of the founding members of the Detection Club—a very real and very similar institution that has had members like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton.
Confronted with a cold case that involves a box of poisoned chocolates being accidentally delivered to an unintended victim, the group decides to separate, take a week to do their detection, and then present each of their individual solutions to the group. So we as readers get six different solutions, each more or less plausible, and from six fascinatingly different viewpoints. It’s a bit like a Clue and Rashomon mash-up.
The pacing is maybe a little quicker than your average golden age British mystery. The London setting is present, but not much on atmosphere. The real focus is on compelling characters and the truly knotty puzzle to be solved. A must read for fans of classic mysteries, and highly recommended for anyone who wants to get started in the genre.
Review by Matthew