Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The Tea House Detective: The Case of Miss Elliott - Baroness Orczy

 I hadn't realised how long I'd had this book sitting on the shelf. I think I bought it when it came out - which was January 2019, and it's been hanging around ever since. I enjoyed the first collection - The Old Man in the Corner - enough to buy this one, and I've enjoyed this one enough to be surprised that I missed the third volume of Old Man stories to come out - 'Unravelled Knots', which is very likely going to be a small Christmas present for myself. 

I've been trying to work out the chronology of these stories, it's slightly confusing but as far as I can tell 'The Old Man in the Corner' stories came first in magazine form, but 'The Case of Miss Elliott' appeared as a book before they did. Unravelled Knots is definitely the last in the series. The confusion only arises because the last story in 'The Old Man in the Corner' makes the continuing friendship between Polly Burton (lady journalist, not named in this collection, but presumably the same girl and not another lady journalist) and the old man somewhat surprising. Lady journalists must have been particularly broadminded and morally flexible in the Edwardian era. 

Otherwise the stories follow a safe formula - there's a crime with obvious suspects, but then there's a hitch - an alibi, or a mystery about just how it could have been pulled off, the old man then explains the solution to Polly over a glass of milk and a slice of cheesecake in the corner of the ABC teashop. His theories might sometimes be outlandish but we can assume they're always correct.

Each story is around the same length - 20 pages or so, and nicely crafted. They're great to read one at a time, and would be ideal as a weekly column in something. Collected together like this they're get to be heavy going if you try to read the book cover to cover in one go - which is sort of the mistake I made with 'The Old Man in the Corner', and probably why it took me so long to pick up 'The Case of Miss Elliott'. However, I bought lots of short story collections with me to mum's house and interspersed with other things it's been an excellent book to pick up and put down.

That's partly why I'm thinking I'll have 'Unravelled Knots' with me for Christmas when I'll be back here. Even a small amount of family and dog are unconducive to novel reading, but this is just the thing for the odd peaceful half hour in-between all the chores, dog walking, eating, and talking. 20 page stories strikes me as ideal bath time reading too (it's as long as I'm likely to read in the bath anyway).

These books are undemanding, they're in the Sherlock Holmes mold, but without the character development - which isn't a criticism. Polly doesn't get the chance to show us anything objectionable in her character or opinions, and the Old Man is morally ambiguous anyway. He might be clever but he's no sort of hero, we're invited to share Polly's fascination and irritation with him, but not to find anything redeemable about him. It makes any old fashioned attitudes much easier to read.


  1. I love these stories. Your post sent me scurrying to my book shelves to retrieve this and The Old Man in the Corner

    1. They're great, and I'm very tempted to procrastinate the rest of the afternoon away with the old man.