Murder In Dorset
The county of Dorset in
South West England contains many towns which
rejoice in names composed of two words that cause
them to sound like characters in a period drama.
The story below releases some of these characters
from their geographical solitude and brings them
together, where they rightly belong, in the
library of a country house in the England of the
1930s, awaiting the dénouement of a murder
Burton Bradstock looked
thoughtfully at those assembled in the library of
It was in this very room,
just one day previously, that Hardington
Mandeville, the fifth Lord Mandeville and owner
of the estate, had been found dead.
The body had been
discovered by Iwerne Courtney, the maid. Lord
Mandeville had been shot in the back through the
glass of the library window. The police had
immediately assumed suicide, but Bradstocks
years of experience as a private detective told
Bradstock had been a guest
at Lord Mandevilles house party when the
death had occurred, and so had immediately begun
his own investigation. He had now requested that
all guests and staff join him in the library.
Bradstock addressed those
present: It is clear to me, he said,
that Lord Mandeville was murdered.
Surprised and disbelieving
gasps arose from around the room.
continued, the murderer is in this room.
Astonished gasps were
Each of you had a
motive for wanting Lord Mandeville dead. He
looked at Bradford Peverell. For example,
Lord Mandeville had planned to reveal Mr
Peverells affair with the housekeeper,
Margaret Marsh, to her husband, Caundle.
Gasping briefly resumed.
Bradford Peverell appeared
but I didnt kill
Bradstock directed his
glance at the estate gamekeeper, West Mudford.
Lord Mandeville had discovered that Mr
Mudford was poaching game on the estate and then
selling it to that well known scoundrel, Sixpenny
Further gasps came forth.
e were gonna sack me, admitted West.
But I never killed im
Blandford Forum, continued Bradstock,
ignoring Wests protestations.
Everyone held their breath.
Surely you cant
think Im involved in this, said
Blandford, indignantly. Id only just
arrived here from a late sitting at the House of
Lords when this dreadful event took place.
You already knew,
however, that Hardington Mandeville was not
prepared to loan you the money to cover your
More breath was rapidly and
audibly inhaled, and Miss Minterne Magna fainted
- made light-headed by a combination of her tight
corset, the constant stream of astonishing
revelations, and oxygen starvation due to the
unnatural and erratic breathing patterns that
everyone seemed to have adopted.
Bradstock looked slowly
around the room. But no, he continued
as Tarrant Rushton wafted smelling salts beneath
the nose of his love, Miss Magna, the real
murderer was hoping that such a plethora of
motives and opportunities would distract
attention from that persons own plan.
You were Hardington
Mandevilles solicitor, were you not?
Bradstock turned to Melcombe Bingham.
Lord Mandeville had
changed his Will, but not signed it, had he not?
Melcombe, originally the estate had been
left to the local church, to be managed by the
vicar, Reverent Winterborne Monkton, and Bishop
Milton Abbas. However, when it emerged that young
Stoke Wake, the presumed child of Dowlish and
Ebbesborne Wake, was actually the love child of
Lord Mandeville, he altered his Will to leave the
bulk of the estate to Stoke, his sole heir.
suggesting that Winterborne or I had anything to
do with this, protested Bishop Abbas.
replied Bradstock, but your Scottish
churchwarden, Fifehead Magdalen, overheard you
both discussing the need to close the church and
sell the land to repay parish debts. There would
be no way to appease creditors in the absence of
the ailing Lord Mandevilles future bequest.
All stared at Fifehead. He
became intently aware that he was part of a 1930s,
country house, library dénouement, led by a
private detective or amateur sleuth. He mentally
cursed his lack of foresight such
assemblies invariably ended in a correct analysis
of the crime and the unmasking of the murderer.
Furthermore, the strict dénouement convention
was for the accused to then confess everything to
the witnesses present, without any attempt to
conceal the truth or seek legal advice.
admitted Fifehead. Ah coods nae bear tae
see th' kirk close an' th' lain sauld.
That would also have
meant your church accounts being audited,
Bradstock concluded. And that would have
revealed the money you had been salting away all
The thud of Miss Magna once
again hitting the floor preceded further communal
concluded Fifehead, resignedly, as two figures
appeared in the library doorway.
come with us, sir, said Inspector Sutton
Waldron - arriving with his constable, Melbury
Bubb, in a precision of timing worthy of an
Agatha Christie conclusion.
There was nothing more to
be said as Fifehead was escorted from the room by
the officers, followed by Ebbesborne Wake and
Tarrant Rushton carrying the poor, unconscious