The Moon Rock
Arthur J. Rees
First published in the UK, 1922
This edition: Project Gutenberg
The pride of the Turold family rested on the belief that they were of noble blood—the lineal inheritors of a great English title which had fallen into abeyance hundreds of years before.
Biographical details on Arthur J. Rees are a little bit sketchy. He was an Australian writing in England and seems to have published more than 20 books (not all mysteries) between 1916 and 1940. There is a tantalising but unsubstantiated hint at Mystery*File that he had a shady past. The Moon Rock is one of his earlier endeavours.
Robert Turold is a wealthy man who has devoted his fortune in an obsessive quest to revive his family claim to the title of Turrald of Great Missenden. As The Moon Rock opens, he has brought his nearest and dearest down to Cornwall to hear the cast-iron case he will shortly be putting to the House of Lords.
For Turold, it is almost coincidental that his wife has just died. He rushes through the funeral so that he can brief his family on the case – and on another unfortunate matter. His daughter Sisily has become an embarrassing fly in the ointment. On her deathbed, Mrs Turold confessed to having been secretly married – a marriage which was never annulled. Legally, Sisily was born out of wedlock, and in Turold’s rather monomaniacal world-view, that means poor old Sisily has to be disowned before she can blot the escutcheon.
That night, the inevitable happens. This is the 1920s and unlikeable rich men all end up dead in a locked room. Turold has always lived where his researches dictated, meaning he has ended up temporarily domiciled in a dingy house perched right on the edge of a remote Cornish cliff. His study looks out over a sheer cliff face down to the rocks below. Obviously, his study is the last room he will ever see.
Thalassa, Turold’s brutish and incredibly suspicious manservant, seems an obvious candidate for murderer, but the wronged Sisily has vanished, and her boyfriend Charlie has been seen wandering around in the night.
Turold’s murder is investigated in stages with no real sense of urgency. There are various detectives who each uncover a portion of the story. Inspector Barrant of Scotland Yard takes over from the local police but soon hits a brick wall. The punctilious family solicitor Mr Brimsdown travels down to Cornwall for a few chapters in the middle.
Tonally, The Moon Rock is a patchwork. There are some laughs of the rude mechanical variety in the person of Mr Crows the coach driver, who doesn’t hold with women or paying for candles inside his vehicle. Turold’s brother Austin provides more urbane wit.
My landlord is an artist. That is to say, he’s forever daubing pictures which nobody buys. I’ve come to the conclusion that most people dislike Cornwall because of the number of bad pictures which are painted here. You see some samples of my host’s brush on these walls. They are actually too bad to be admitted to the Academy.
These lighter spots are counter-balanced by heavily written chapters – usually those concerning poor, wronged Sisily.
The rock had fascinated the girl from the first moment she had seen it. In the summer months, tourists came from afar to gaze on its fancied resemblance to one of the illustrious dead. But to Sisily there was a secret brooding consciousness in the dark mask. It seemed to her to be watching and waiting for something. For what? Its glance seemed to follow her like the eyes of a picture. And it conveyed a menace by its mere proximity, even when she could not see it. When she looked out of her window at night, and saw only the shadow of the rock with the face veiled in darkness, she seemed to hear the whisper of its words: ‘I am here. Do not think to escape. I will have you yet.’ Among the fisher-folk of that part of the coast it was known as the Moon Rock.
Takes me back to having to read Thomas Hardy at school.
Finally, when the back-story of Turold’s mysterious wealth emerges, it is a Doylean tale of treasure-hunting, desparation and murder in various colonial locations.
So, you get your money’s worth in terms of the components, but for me they don’t hang together convincingly. Worst of all, the story ends with a bit of a clunk. I felt nobody quite deserved what they got in the end, which always makes me grumpy. The Moon Rock did keep me reading, but overall, I’m not sure the good parts made up for the bad.