Authors: Annie Haynes
“I cannot understand why Mr. Bechcombe apparently offered no resistance. His hand-bell, his speaking-tube, the telephoneâall were close at hand. It looks as though he had recognized his assassin and had no fear of him.”
The corner house of Crow's Inn Square was the most dignified set of solicitors' chambers imaginable. But this monument to law and order nonetheless becomes the scene of murder â when the distinguished lawyer Mr. Bechcombe, despite giving strict instructions not to be disturbed, is strangled in his own office.
Inspector Furnival of Scotland Yard has to wrestle with fiendish clues, unearth priceless gems and tangle with a dangerous gang before he can solve this case, his third and final golden age mystery. Originally published in 1927, this new edition is the first printed in over 80 years, and features an introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.
“What could be better to whet the appetite of the mystery-loving reader? A capital piece of work... exactly the sort of mystery story that everyone is asking for and will eagerly devour.”
The psychological enigma of Agatha Christie's notorious 1926 vanishing has continued to intrigue Golden Age mystery fans to the present day. The Queen of Crime's eleven-day disappearing act is nothing, however, compared to the decades-long disappearance, in terms of public awareness, of between-the-wars mystery writer Annie Haynes (1865-1929), author of a series of detective novels published between 1923 and 1930 by Agatha Christie's original English publisher, The Bodley Head. Haynes's books went out of print in the early Thirties, not long after her death in 1929, and her reputation among classic detective fiction readers, high in her lifetime, did not so much decline as dematerialize. When, in 2013, I first wrote a piece about Annie Haynes' work, I knew of only two other living persons besides myself who had read any of her books. Happily, Dean Street Press once again has come to the rescue of classic mystery fans seeking genre gems from the Golden Age, and is republishing all Haynes' mystery novels. Now that her crime fiction is coming back into print, the question naturally arises: Who Was Annie Haynes? Solving the mystery of this forgotten author's lost life has taken leg work by literary sleuths on two continents (my thanks for their assistance to Carl Woodings and Peter Harris).
Until recent research uncovered new information about Annie Haynes, almost nothing about her was publicly known besides the fact of her authorship of twelve mysteries during the Golden Age of detective fiction. Now we know that she led an altogether intriguing life, too soon cut short by disability and death, which took her from the isolation of the rural English Midlands in the nineteenth century to the cultural high life of Edwardian London. Haynes was born in 1865 in the Leicestershire town of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the first child of ironmonger Edwin Haynes and Jane (Henderson) Haynes, daughter of Montgomery Henderson, longtime superintendent of the gardens at nearby Coleorton Hall, seat of the Beaumont baronets. After her father left his family, young Annie resided with her grandparents at the gardener's cottage at Coleorton Hall, along with her mother and younger brother. Here Annie doubtlessly obtained an acquaintance with the ways of the country gentry that would serve her well in her career as a genre fiction writer.
We currently know nothing else of Annie Haynes' life in Leicestershire, where she still resided (with her mother) in 1901, but by 1908, when Haynes was in her early forties, she was living in London with Ada Heather-Bigg (1855-1944) at the Heather-Bigg family home, located halfway between Paddington Station and Hyde Park at 14 Radnor Place, London. One of three daughters of Henry Heather-Bigg, a noted pioneer in the development of orthopedics and artificial limbs, Ada Heather-Bigg was a prominent Victorian and Edwardian era feminist and social reformer. In the 1911 British census entry for 14 Radnor Place, Heather-Bigg, a “philanthropist and journalist,” is listed as the head of the household and Annie Haynes, a “novelist,” as a “visitor,” but in fact Haynes would remain there with Ada Heather-Bigg until Haynes' death in 1929.
Haynes' relationship with Ada Heather-Bigg introduced the aspiring author to important social sets in England's great metropolis. Though not a novelist herself, Heather-Bigg was an important figure in the city's intellectual milieu, a well-connected feminist activist of great energy and passion who believed strongly in the idea of women attaining economic independence through remunerative employment. With Ada Heather-Bigg behind her, Annie Haynes's writing career had powerful backing indeed. Although in the 1911 census Heather-Bigg listed Haynes' occupation as “novelist,” it appears that Haynes did not publish any novels in book form prior to 1923, the year that saw the appearance of
The Bungalow Mystery
, which Haynes dedicated to Heather-Bigg. However, Haynes was a prolific producer of newspaper serial novels during the second decade of the twentieth century, penning such works as
Lady Carew's Secret
Footprints of Fate
A Pawn of Chance
The Manor Tragedy
and many others.
Haynes' twelve Golden Age mystery novels, which appeared in a tremendous burst of creative endeavor between 1923 and 1930, like the author's serial novels retain, in stripped-down form, the emotionally heady air of the nineteenth-century triple-decker sensation novel, with genteel settings, shocking secrets, stormy passions and eternal love all at the fore, yet they also have the fleetness of Jazz Age detective fiction. Both in their social milieu and narrative pace Annie Haynes' detective novels bear considerable resemblance to contemporary works by Agatha Christie; and it is interesting to note in this regard that Annie Haynes and Agatha Christie were the only female mystery writers published by The Bodley Head, one of the more notable English mystery imprints in the early Golden Age. “A very remarkable feature of recent detective fiction,” observed the
Illustrated London News
in 1923, “is the skill displayed by women in this branch of story-telling. Isabel Ostrander, Carolyn Wells, Annie Haynes and last, but very far from least, Agatha Christie, are contesting the laurels of Sherlock Holmes' creator with a great spirit, ingenuity and success.” Since Ostrander and Wells were American authors, this left Annie Haynes, in the estimation of the
Illustrated London News
, as the main British female competitor to Agatha Christie. (Dorothy L. Sayers, who, like Haynes, published her debut mystery novel in 1923, goes unmentioned.) Similarly, in 1925
wryly noted that “[t]ired men, trotting home at the end of an imperfect day, have been known to pop into the library and ask for an Annie Haynes. They have not made a mistake in the street number. It is not a cocktail they are asking forâ¦.”
Twenties critical opinion adjudged that Annie Haynes' criminous concoctions held appeal not only for puzzle fiends impressed with the “considerable craftsmanship” of their plots (quoting from the
The Bungalow Mystery
), but also for more general readers attracted to their purely literary qualities. “Not only a crime story of merit, but also a novel which will interest readers to whom mystery for its own sake has little appeal,” avowed
The Secret of Greylands
, while the
The Witness on the Roof
that “Miss Haynes has a sense of character; her people are vivid and not the usual puppets of detective fiction.” Similarly, the
deemed the characters in Haynes'
The Abbey Court Murder
“much truer to life than is the case in many sensational stories” and
The Crime at Tattenham Corner
, “Excellent as a detective tale, the book also is a charming novel.”
Sadly, Haynes' triumph as a detective novelist proved short lived. Around 1914, about the time of the outbreak of the Great War, Haynes had been stricken with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis that left her in constant pain and hastened her death from heart failure in 1929, when she was only 63. Haynes wrote several of her detective novels on fine days in Kensington Gardens, where she was wheeled from 14 Radnor Place in a bath chair, but in her last years she was able only to travel from her bedroom to her study. All of this was an especially hard blow for a woman who had once been intensely energetic and quite physically active.
In a foreword to
The Crystal Beads Murder
, the second of Haynes' two posthumously published mysteries, Ada Heather-Bigg noted that Haynes' difficult daily physical struggle “was materially lightened by the warmth of friendships” with other authors and by the “sympathetic and friendly relations between her and her publishers.” In this latter instance Haynes' experience rather differed from that of her sister Bodleian, Agatha Christie, who left The Bodley Head on account of what she deemed an iniquitous contract that took unjust advantage of a naive young author. Christie moved, along with her landmark detective novel
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
(1926), to Collins and never looked back, enjoying ever greater success with the passing years.
At the time Christie crossed over to Collins, Annie Haynes had only a few years of life left. After she died at 14 Radnor Place on 30 March 1929, it was reported in the press that “many people well-known in the literary world” attended the author's funeral at St. Michaels and All Angels Church, Paddington, where her sermon was delivered by the eloquent vicar, Paul Nichols, brother of the writer Beverley Nichols and dedicatee of Haynes' mystery novel
The Master of the Priory
; yet by the time of her companion Ada Heather-Bigg's death in 1944, Haynes and her once highly-praised mysteries were forgotten. (Contrastingly, Ada Heather-Bigg's name survives today in the University College of London's Ada Heather-Bigg Prize in Economics.) Only three of Haynes' novels were ever published in the United States, and she passed away less than a year before the formation of the Detection Club, missing any chance of being invited to join this august body of distinguished British detective novelists. Fortunately, we have today entered, when it comes to classic mystery, a period of rediscovery and revival, giving a reading audience a chance once again, after over eighty years, to savor the detective fiction fare of Annie Haynes.
The offices of Messrs. Bechcombe and Turner took up the whole of the first floor of the corner house of Crow's Inn Square. Bechcombe and Turner was one of the oldest legal firms in London. Their offices were dingy, not to say grimy-looking. The doors and windows had evidently not had a coat of paint for years. There were no lifts in Crow's Inn. Any such modern innovation would have been out of place in the tall, narrow-casemented houses that stood square round the grassâgrass which was bound and crossed by stone flagged walks. The front door of the corner house stood open; the tessellated floor of the hall was dulled by the passing of numberless footsteps. The narrow, uncarpeted stairs went up just opposite the door.
A tall, grey-haired clergyman, who was carefully scrutinizing the almost illegible doorplate, glanced round in some distaste as he went up the worn stairs. At the top he was faced by a door with the legend “Inquiries” written large upon it. After a moment's hesitation he knocked loudly. Instantly a panel in the middle of the door shot aside and a small, curiously wrinkled face looked out inquisitively.
“Mr. Bechcombe?” the caller said inquiringly. “Please tell him that Mr. Collyer has called, but that he will wait.”
The message was repeated by a boyish voice, the panel was pushed into its place again, a door by the side opened and Mr. Collyer was beckoned in. He found himself in a small ante-room; a door before him stood open and he could see into an office containing a row of desks on each side and several clerks apparently writing busily away. Nearer to him was another open door evidently leading into a waiting-room, furnished with a round centre-table and heavy leather chairsâall with the same indescribable air of gloom that seemed to pervade Messrs. Bechcombe and Turner's establishment.
The boy who had admitted Mr. Collyer now stood aside for him to pass in, and then departed, vouchsafing the information that Mr. Bechcombe would be at leisure in a few minutes.
With a sigh of relief the clergyman let himself down into one of the capacious arm-chairs, moving stiffly like a man afflicted with chronic rheumatism. Then he laid his head against the back of it as if thoroughly tired out. Seen thus in repose, the deep lines graven on his clean-shaven face were very noticeable, his mouth had a weary droop, and his kind, grey eyes with the tiny network of wrinkles round them were sad and worried.
The minutes were very few indeed before a bell rang close at hand, a door sprang open as if by magic and the same boy beckoned him into a farther room.