Well, this was a fun read.
Anthony Wynne (real name: Robert McNair Wilson), Martin Edwards informs us in this book's preface and in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, was the long-standing medical correspondent of The Times; a man with many and varied interests which, in addition to his medical profession and publications in subjects ranging from science to history and, well, detective fiction -- also included politics and national economics.
His abiding interest in psychology (by training, he was a cardiologist and a nerve specialist) is certainly at play in this novel as well, in which the spinster sister of an impoverished Scottish laird is found dead in her bedroom, after its locked doors have been forced open. The room's windows are likewise locked, and though she has suffered a brutally-administered (and obviously fatal) wound, no murder weapon is found, and she has lost surprisingly little blood given the nature of her wound.
Dr. Eustace Hailey -- Wynne's "great detective" and almost certainly at least in part a stand-in for the author, whose opinions and outlook on life he seems to share in quite a number of respects -- is called in to the investigation by the regional Procurator Fiscal, but shooed away again with comparatively little grace by the inspector sent by Police Headquarters in Glasgow to investigate the murder ... only to be resorted to once more (with equally little grace) in a matter of days, when the inspector's investigative trails have summarily run cold.
The murdered woman locally had a reputation touching on saintlihood, but was in fact a manipulative witch of the worst order who held her entire household in an oppressive stranglehold -- she was, in other words, a textbook Golden Age mystery victim. Motives for her murder abound, but neither they nor the apparent opportunities to commit the crime are consistent with the psychology of the potential suspects, and just like Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, Dr. Hailey refuses to attach guilt to a would-be suspect as long as motive, means, evidence and psychology are not aligned. It also doesn't seem to help that local rumour soon ascribes the lady's death to a selkie believed to be living in Loch Fyne, where the events are taking place (I'd initially thought the book was set on Loch Lomond: turns out I was in error by two Trossach mountain ranges; still, the scenery is similar), on the strength of a fish scale found near the dead woman's body.
The novel is tightly-plotted, and I tremendously enjoyed both its psychological aspects and Wynne's way with words -- and unlike Tigus and Moonlight Reader I also didn't mind the amount of dialogue. There were some things that didn't make sense to me, which I'm going to address in the spoiler below, but they didn't impinge on my enjoyment half as much as they might have in a weaker book. By and large the story hangs together very well, and though the calamities certainly pile up towards the end, Wynne also manages to tie it up neatly and without any obvious rush.
As a coincidental side note, several elements of this book also tied in with my recent Halloween Bingo reads ... one of them being a reference to "the babes in the wood," a proverb based on a traditional children's tale dealing with -- you guessed it -- two kids all alone in the woods, after their parents have unwittingly left them to the care of their evil uncle, who in short order proceeds to deliver them into the hands of murderers. The tale was first published as a ballad by Thomas Millington in Norwich in 1595 -- the late 19th century Caldecott version is available for free on the Project Gutenberg site -- and has given rise to a proverb indicating essentially the same as someone being "in over their head"; i.e., being overwhelmed by situation requiring decidedly more experience than one really possesses. That would certainly be an apt description for many a member of the dead woman's household in this novel -- at least as much, if not more so than in Ruth Rendell's novel of the same name, which I read for (obviously) the "In the Dark, Dark Woods" square of the Halloween Bingo.
All in all, I am very grateful to Martin Edwards and the British Library for having unearthed this little gem after almost a century's worth of neglect, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for more books by Anthony Wynne ... hoping I can find them, that is.
NOTE: Don't read the below spoiler if you haven't read / finished this book yet; I'm going to address, inter alia, the novel's conclusion there.
This novel fullfills the chapter 5 square on the Detection Club bingo card, "Miraculous Murders" (locked room mysteries and impossible crimes).
In the context of the Halloween Bingo, it would fit "Amateur Sleuth", "Country House Murders", "Murder Most Foul" and, of course, also "Locked Room Mystery."
The Detection Club bingo card: