Wodehouse, P. G.: Death at the Excelsior

‘In a Southampton boarding-house, in a room with a locked door, this man was stung by a cobra. To add a little mystification to the limpid simplicity of the affair, when the door was opened there was no sign of any cobra. It couldn’t have got out through the door, because the door was locked. It couldn’t have got out of the window, because the window was too high up, and snakes can’t jump. And it couldn’t have gotten up the chimney, because there was no chimney. So there you have it.’

After slating P. G. Wodehouse’s The Swoop last month, I felt the need to read something else by Wodehouse to remove the painful memory. I picked up Death at the Excelsior and Other Stories, which seems to be a collection made especially for Project Gutenberg. Death at the Excelsior is, as far as I can make out, Wodehouse’s only true mystery story.

Mr Paul Snyder of Mr Paul Snyder’s Detective Agency picks up an impossible crime, a case of poisoning in a Southampton boarding house for retired seamen, and hands it to one of his younger detectives, Oakes. Oakes is rather full of himself.

Oakes sank into a chair like a crouching leopard, and placed the tips of his fingers together. He nodded curtly. It was part of his pose to be keen and silent.


Mr Snyder wants a case that will bring Oakes down to earth, and hopes that he’ll be stumped by this murder. He’s disappointed when Oakes returns with a solution, but heartened when he is proven wrong by Mrs Pickett, the landlady.

Apart from swipes at Oakes, Wodehouse plays the story pretty straight and this is a perfectly respectable, if simple, mystery. Worth a quick read.

Death at the Excelsior
P. G. Wodehouse
First published 1914
This edition Project Gutenberg

See also:

Project Gutenberg ProjectWhile it’s not as amusing and laugh-out-loud funny as the Jeeves stories, I did enjoy it. I liked the set-up of the older detective sending one of his younger employees, Elliot Oakes, to solve the case in the hopes that the cocky detective would learn a lesson by not being able to solve the mystery… I also love Mrs. Pickett, the boarding house owner who shows up both Snyder and Oakes. Old ladies FTW!


About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
This entry was posted in Classic mystery book review, Witness Statements and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Wodehouse, P. G.: Death at the Excelsior

  1. realthog says:

    Interesting. I have difficulty with Wodehouse’s humor, but perhaps I’d find him more tolerable when he’s writing relatively straight. I’ve downloaded the collection and will gingerly investigate.

    Come to think of it, I’m surprised he’s in the public domain. He died in 1975.


  2. OK, well that sounds like it’s worth a punt – especially if it’s short and free!


  3. JJ says:

    Hey, awesome! I heard about this in the Black Lizard Book of Jumbo Extra Super Sizeness of Locked Room Awesometimes (to give it its full title) but having read a lot of those stories already didn’t want to fork out just for the handful – like this – that were new to me. Great to know its on Gutenberg, but much like realthog I’m surprised Wodehouse is already in the public domain. Shhhhh, don’t tell anyone…


  4. Roger says:

    “this man was stung by a cobra.”…or bitten by a bee, perhaps.


  5. Pingback: Bonfiglioli, Kyril: Don’t Point That Thing at Me | Past Offences Classic Crime Fiction

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