“Mystery at Vellum” by L. G. Horsfield (sic) was published by Scion Ltd in 1950. The author is Leslie Graham Horsefield, whom is known to have written a handful of publications. Equally dated 1950 is “Murder at No. 3,” publishing his surname correctly, via Gerald G. Swan in hardback.
Bizarrely enough, that same year, he authored the book “I Am Jonathan Scrivener” via Collins. I’ve never seen this book, but, the title originates with British author Claude Houghton. Was the book an act of plagiarism?
Whatever the case may be, Horsefield appears to entirely vanish and does not resurface until 1978-1980, editing the New English Library cross-figure puzzle books. Where was he during that 28-year gap?
Very little appears to be known about Leslie Graham Horsefield. So, what is known?
BORN: 21 March 1907 to Frederic John HORSEFIELD and Ethel Mary WILKINS.
CHRISTENED: 23 June 1907 at St. Silas’ Church in Bedminster, Bristol, England.
MARRIAGE: to Dorothy R. LIPPIATT in 1930 in Bristol
CHILDREN: one daughter, Rosamond M. Horsefield in 1931. She in turn married Alan G. BAILEY in 1957 in the Eton district. She died aged 36 in 1967 in the Luton district. I found no record of their having a child. Why did she die so young?
DEATH: Leslie’s is registered as 1987 in Honiton, Devon, England.
So, we have mapped out his life in birth, marriage, death, and the mysterious death of his only child, Rosamond, dying 10 years into her marriage. What were the circumstances? (If I learn anything of interest, I will update this entry).
The digest-paperback itself sports a strikingly bold cover illustration by none other than Ron Turner, predating his contributions to the publisher’s science fiction output.
The artwork depicts a man in the throws of agony and a pair of hands suggestively cutting through a wire, using pinchers, with drops of blood below, suggesting death. It’s a wildly hypnotic cover that simply draws you down and into the scene. As soon as my eyes rested on the cover, I knew I must read this book. Would the 128-page novel support the awesome Ron Turner art?
Harry Masterman, eldest son and future heir to Sir William Masterman’s fortunes, dies during a competitive motorcycling accident, flinging his body down upon the rocks to a bloody death. One of the guests, an ex-WW2 veteran, inspects the bike and discovers that the brake-line was partially cut. When Harry, the best biker on the premises, attempted to brake on the turn, the brakes failed and he plummeted to his death.
Who murdered Harry Masterman?
- Robert, Harry’s younger, bitter brother, whom stands to inherit very little
- Peter, jealous that his girlfriend, Joan, seemed attentive to Harry’s charms
- Joan, whom Harry publicly humiliated after a late-night bike ride before her friends
- Peter’s twin sister Phyllis, whom recently herself ended a bad love affair and doesn’t want to see her brother emotionally destroyed
- Bill Davis, a staff mechanic, whom harbors hatred toward Harry
- Charlie, the young man that discovered the severed brake line, covering his tracks
We are certainly not led to believe other post-college-age attendees Lily or Mabel, could have been responsible. The girls have little impact on the novel. Likewise, any of the numerous household employees could have murdered Harry, ranging from the butler, to the maids, to the cooks, the gardeners, the gatekeeper, etc.
The author leads Inspector Cassell and his assistant, Dalrow, on a wild hunt to discover the murderer. Eventually, we are led to hunt the twin sister, Phyllis, after she inexplicably vanishes. A coat and hat known to belong to her are found down by the lake. Did she drown? When another says she never would have worn that combination of colors (grey coat and yellow hat) they realize the drowning is a blind. She has escaped.
Leading the chase, Cassell learns that she has hooked up with her ex-lover. While hunting for her, they discover the missing pinchers that severed the brake-line hidden in her chimney, covered in soot. When she is eventually caught, she confesses to the crime.
However, another house guest, planted by the Inspector to gain the confidence of the youths, suggests otherwise. She’s certain that Phyllis claimed the killing to protect Peter, whom she thinks performed the actual act.
Cassell baits the remaining culprits by stating firmly Phyllis is arrested, and to be tried for murder. Hoping to elicit a reaction, he leaves the room and waits in his rooms for further details. He is surprised when Dalrow enters and announces that Robert and Joan have eloped and plan to wed, after only courting for two days!
Cassell immediately figures out the plot. Joan is the murderer, desires to marry Robert, the younger surviving son and now sole heir, and by marrying into the family, then Sir William will desire to avoid public scandal and use his private contacts with Scotland Yard and destroy the case, permanently leaving it unsolved.
It’s a rush against time to discover where Robert and Joan are, and capture them before the wedding occurs….