Trent's Last Case by E C Bentley (Shane's book 8, 2010)

It's probably no surprise that having just read a book about crime fiction I should turn next to one of the classics of the genre. Trent's Last Case is significant because it was one of the first novels to subvert the conventions of the genre - and it did so in 1913, before the genre even reached its so-called golden age.

[amtap book:isbn=075511583X]

Philip Trent is a gentleman detective who works mostly for newspapers. When the story opens he has already earned a degree of fame for solving several high profile cases. He is called in to investigate the death of Sigsbee Manderson, an American businessman who has been found dead at his country home. Manderson was unpopular with most people who knew him so there is no shortage of suspects but what's baffling is how he came to be shot dead in his garden without any sound being heard.

It's a typical country house mystery: rich victim, isolated house close to a peaceful tranquil village, potentially treacherous servants, and so on. What lifts it out of the ordinary is the humour with which Bentley approaches it. It's as a humourist that Bentley was best known - he invented the Clerihew, the silly four-line biographical poems which take their name from Bentley's middle name.

Here he pokes fun at the idea of the detective who unravels the fiendishly complicated plot. Trent does come up with a fiendishly complicated solution to the case but he turns out to be wrong. He gets the killer's identity wrong too and hence vows that this will be his "last case". It wasn't - Bentley brought Trent back in a sequel and in several short stories.

This is silly, escapist fun and one of the landmarks in the history of the detective novel.