The Sittaford Mystery

A richly complex view of the candidate selected by Winston Churchill to succeed him as Prime Minister. A Whitehall “dirt-digger” follows the man to Devon, where quite a tale comes posthumously to light.

Capt. Trevelyan is haunted by a ghost, the shade of his mistress abandoned with child in Egypt. Her brother was an archæologist murdered by him after the pair broke open a tomb with dynamite and looted it of, among other things, a golden scorpion. This was the foundation of his political career.

On the business side, his partnership with an American produced the TX-75, a naval artillery shell prone to fatally premature detonation. “He got the cream,” says the Yank, “I got the 2¢ deposit.” A congressional investigation is in the works.

The archæologist’s widow is on his trail, so is the cast-off son, who passes for a reporter and woos the mistress of the captain’s dissolute adopted son and heir, whom he frames for the murder.

The scene is laid at The Three Crowns in Exhampton, and at the captain’s residence nearby, Sittaford House. The inn has no staff, the chef is sick. A convict has just escaped from Dartmoor Prison.

It’s a terrible winter, people are advised to stay indoors. The captain has secretly married a girl named Violet like his late mistress. Her mother bullies her and runs off with the chef, who is none other than the convict.

“It’s just like the war,” observes the dirt-digger amidst these privations, “only... less fun.” There is a Ouija session the night of the murder, at which the adopted son given a false letter proclaiming his disinheritance manipulates the board to spell out death for the captain.

The American is a football fan. His self-confessed “creature”, a discredited physician, sells him placebos and climbs up on the roof in a snowstorm to pick up the Rams game in Los Angeles on a radio aerial. “I wanna see blood tonight,” says his creator.

The captain’s aide, a man whose life he saved in 1917, conducts the inquiry absent the police. The captain’s manservant is an Egyptian in league with the archæologist’s widow, whose spectacles are stolen at the inn lest she spot the faux chef.

Rita Tushingham is the myopic avenger, Robert Hardy is Churchill, Timothy Dalton the captain, Patricia Hodge the chef’s specialty, amid the admirable cast.

The captain had two tickets for Buenos Aires. His bride goes in his absence, with the faux reporter’s mistress (whence doubtless they return as Rosemary & Thyme).