I didn’t know that C P Snow had written crime fiction. I’d read some of his books many years ago – the Strangers and Brothers series, in which he had coined the phrase ‘the corridors of power‘. I won Death Under Sail, Snow’s very first novel, in one of Bev’s Mount TBR Checkpoints at My Reader’s Block last year! It was first published in 1932, when Snow was 26 and a research scientist at Cambridge.
This is a classic mystery, a type of ‘country house’ mystery, but set on a wherry (a sailing boat) on the Norfolk Broads, where Roger Mills, a Harley Street specialist, is taking a group of six friends on a sailing holiday. When they find him at the tiller with a smile on his face and a gunshot through his heart, all six fall under suspicion.
The book is narrated by Ian Capel, who is older than the other friends and has joined the party a week later than the others. They are all old friends, with the exception of Tonia, Philip’s new girl friend, who all get on very well together; Avril and Christopher are engaged and William is a young doctor, a colleague of Roger’s. Ian describes them as ‘some of the pleasantest people whom I had ever known‘ – but are they, because one of them must be the murderer?
Ian asks his old friend Finbow, a civil servant home on leave from Hong Kong, to help them discover who did it. Meanwhile the police are also investigating the murder in the form of Detective Sergeant Aloysius Birrell. Finbow and Birrell provide an interesting contrast in the way they work – Finbow looks at the crime from a psychological and philosophical point of view, ruling out suspect after suspect, whereas Birrell looks for facts and evidence – even down to diving into the river himself to look for the missing gun and Roger’s log book. It’s ingenious!