The Mystery at Orchard House

by Joan Coggin
first published in 1946

1334071Lady Lupin Lorrimer Hastings, the young, totally scatterbrained but extremely kind wife to the vicar of Glanville, is off for a bit of rest on the eve of World War II at a country hotel in Kent owned and run by old pal Diana Turner when a series of petty thefts requires that she once again use her odd deductive powers to restore order.

In spite of her best efforts, theft follows theft (Loops hopes it is just a case of justifiable kleptomania). Things get a bit dicier when a guest’s car goes out of control after the steering nut is deliberately loosened. Is it attempted murder? And just who set fire to Orchard House? It could be anyone of the guests, a very odd assortment who spend most of their time bickering among themselves. There’s a self-centered lady novelist whose only concern is recovering her ‘child’ – the manuscript to her book; a newly married couple who quarrel most of the time; a retired army officer who seems to have set his cap for any number of women; a vicar’s wife whom Lupin desperately tries to avoid for fear the older woman will see immediately that she is a fraud; her son, a chinless young poet who longs to be a mechanic; a sweet-faced but domineering widow determined to control her spineless daughter’s life; the daughter herself who yearns to make her own home; and a cynical young painter who claims to find beauty only in grim industrial scenes.

As usual, Lady Lupin gets everything wrong, yet somehow stumbles to the truth, as she runs the hotel in Diana’s absence and tries to conceal her highborn origins from a socialist garageman she befriends. Lady Lupin’s first case, Who Killed the Curate?, was a hit with readers and reviewers alike who helped put it on the bestseller lists of several mystery bookstores.

This was a fun mystery with no murder. The characters are quirky and fun and I love Lady Lupin. This one was the second book in a series of four and I’d love to get the first. Lupin is an Earl’s daughter and married to a lowly vicar. She always feels like she is a ‘fake vicar’s wife’ and someone is going to find out. She is sweet, silly and scatterbrained and yet always ends up figuring out the situation best and giving the best advice.

A taste of Lupin for you…

  ‘”Have you any ideas?”
Lupin blinked. She was never much of a one for ideas, and when she did have them they weren’t very good ones. For instance, there had been that idea of a Pierrot show for the Communicants’ Guild. Well, that hadn’t been a very good idea, not really. Then she had thought of bribing the children with doughnuts to come to Sunday school. Two of them had been sick, but they had certainly had a record attendance for three Sundays, and she still secretly thought that it had been rather a brainwave, but , of course, Andrew knew best. Still, it had been an idea, whether good or bad. “I do sometimes get an idea,” she said guardedly.’

Playing bridge… “I find it difficult in any position,” agreed Lupin. “I went three hearts just now thinking that I had got seven, and three of them turned out to be diamonds.”

  “Well,” he remarked, as they drove out of the hospital gates, “so your father is an earl, is he?”
“Well, yes, I suppose he is in a way, but I did ask the policeman not to tell you, because I had an idea that you didn’t like earls, and after all, its not altogether Daddy’s fault, is it? He’s got the sweetest nature and, anyway, my husband is only a plain minister, not that he’s exactly plain. In fact, he’s very good-looking, but you know what I mean.”
“You ran away with a humble suitor, did you?”
Lupin pondered. She remembered the surprised and incredulous delight her family had displayed on learning that she was engaged to Andrew. So many girls nowadays were prone to marry film stars, crooners, and broadcast announcers who, though no doubt excellent husbands and fathers, were something of an unknown quantity to people like the Lanchesters. They had always felt that Lupin was just the kind of girl who might do something eccentric, and that her eccentricity should take the form of marrying a clergyman instead of running away with a member of the Left Book Club was a great relief to them.
Clergymen were a race with which the Lanchesters had always been familiar, and this particular one had the advantage of being related to families they had known all their lives. Then he was old enough and sensible to keep Lupin in order, which was a distinct advantage. Not that there was any harm in her, but she had an impulsive nature which often led to trouble. At twelve she had adopted six sick dogs from a neighboring dogs’ home, at fifteen she had become engaged to the gardener’s boy, to his intense embarrassment, and at eighteen she had absentmindedly gone to a neighboring hunt ball in fancy dress. Three more years had passed while her parents felt themselves treading on the edge of a precipice, and then she had become engaged to this young, or not so young, clergyman, and they had felt themselves on firm ground at last.


“No, I have no idea how the fire started,” Lupin told the superintendent. “Isn’t it funny how if you try to light a fire with plenty of paper and firewood and matches and everything, it is almost impossible to get it to go? Whereas if you drop a cigarette-end on to a bit of glass or steel or asbestos, the house is on fire in no time.”
“You think the fire was started by a cigarette-end:”
“Oh, dear, I hope not. Do you think I could have dropped one anywhere? I expect it will all turn out to be my fault. But I don’t think I sat in that armchair, though, of course, knowing how things happen, especially to me, it might easily have leaped out of the ashtray on to the chair or something.”

Have you read any of these books? What did you think?

This book counts for Vintage Cover Scavenger Hunt @ Bev’s My Readers Block in the Golden Era, category – Hat.