The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy

Today Baroness Orczy is mostly remembered as the creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel but she also wrote quite a few mysteries. The Old Man in the Corner (1909) is possibly the best known among her mysteries.

Polly Burton, a young reporter, encounters a strange old man at a tea shop. He offers simple solutions to the most perplexing of unsolved mysteries. All the while the man toys with a piece of string, making knots and unravelling them. Annoyed by the man’s smugness but at the same time fascinated by his solutions Miss Burton keeps visiting the tea shop, as a new mystery is unravelled each time.

I had read The Fenchurch Street Mystery a long time ago in a mystery anthology. I wasn’t much impressed with it as I found it kind of dull. As a collection, Baroness Orczy’s mysteries, with an interconnecting central narrative, work better.

The Old Man in the Corner contains twelve short mysteries, The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace, The York Mystery, The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway, The Liverpool Mystery, The Edinburgh Mystery, The Theft at the English Provident Bank, The Dublin Mystery, An Unparalleled Outrage, The Regent’s Park Murder, The de Genneville Peerage and The Mysterious Death in Percy Street.

Most of the mysteries are easy to figure out once you’ve read the first few stories. After a while I managed to pin point the culprit pretty easily. I read on only to find out how they did it.

Many of these mysteries are rather twisted. I say twisted because none of the criminals are caught or punished by the authorities. The eponymous old man’s sympathies lie mostly with the criminals and he shows unconcealed delight as the criminals get away with their crimes. Also, there is something gruesome about many of the stories. For example, the murders in The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The Dublin Mystery and The de Genneville Peerage. Some of the perpetrators, like those in The York Mystery and The Edinburgh Mystery, are abnormal people with a warped view of love and loyalty.

Among the stories The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The York Mystery, The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway, The Edinburgh Mystery, The Theft at the English Provident Bank, The Dublin Mystery and The de Genneville Peerage are pretty good. Mysteries like The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace, The Liverpool Mystery, An Unparalleled Outrage and The Regent’s Park Murder are pretty bland. The last story, The Mysterious Death in Percy Street, left me surprised.

The end of the central narrative left me fairly shocked. I really didn’t see this coming.

Overall, I enjoyed The Old Man in the Corner. I would definitely want to read more of Baroness Orczy’s mysteries.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)

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