Roger Sheringham is feeling rather smug. He has achieved his goal: he has formed a Crimes Circle. This is a group of intelligent people who are interested in crime (a lawyer, a few brilliant writers, Roger himself, and Mr. Ambrose Chitterwick –and no one can quite decide why he was included.) They are assembled, along with a police superintendent, to solve a crime the police have given up on: the murder of Joan Bendix, who was poisoned with nitrobenzene when she ate some chocolates from a box given to her husband at his club.
The Poisoned Chocolates Case, by Anthony Berkeley, is structured differently than almost any other mystery I’ve ever seen. Each chapter consists of a different member of the Crimes Circle coming forward and saying blushingly that he or she has absolutely certainly come up with the solution to the crime and the identity of the poisoner — how simple it all was! — followed by a foolproof explanation of the crime. Each chapter then concludes with another member of the group pointing out the flaws in the explanation, and Berkeley segues to the following, different, foolproof explanation. Each member uses a different style of deduction. Each member comes up with a different idea as to whodunit, and why. The last member — and this is clever — presents the group with a chart that shows all the possible poisoners, criminals, salient features, styles of deduction, and parallel cases that had been adduced in the Crimes Circle so far… before he solves the case for good.
Anthony Berkeley is a clever author. He also wrote mysteries (or really more like psychological thrillers) under the name Francis Iles, such as Before the Fact and Malice Aforethought. That latter is the book on which the Cary Grant-Joan Fontaine film Suspicion was based. (Brrrr. Although I find the book even creepier.) This book isn’t creepy — except insofar as the idea of being poisoned by a box of delicious chocolates is always creepy — but it’s light and fun. Slowly, chapter by chapter, the characters in the case are revealed to be not quite who we thought they were. And so are the detectives.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, which could be read in a couple of hours at 200 or so pages. If you like Golden Age mysteries, wedge this into your list.