The List of Adrian Messenger by Philip MacDonald (1959)

Adrian Messenger gives a list of ten names, occupations, and addresses to a contact at Scotland Yard and asks him to find out whether they are all still living there. He won’t explain why he wants the information, only saying that it is something “big” but also “preposterous”. The next day he dies following a plane crash from which there are just two survivors, a journalist and an air stewardess, but not before uttering some phrases which may have some bearing on the matter.

Initial police inquiries reveal that some of the men have died in the last few years and so Anthony Gethryn (now promoted to General), who sometimes does “odd jobs” for the CID, is brought in to identify the connection between the men and to protect those who are still alive. He deciphers Messenger’s final words bit by bit, with the reader given part of the solution, which is unfair but beautiful, from a snatch of seemingly irrelevant conversation.

This is definitely more like a thriller than a genuinely clued mystery but the important details are revealed piece by piece as we see the investigation both helped and hampered by the unwitting choices of various characters.

It is not your usual serial killer story, as becomes quickly apparent to the reader, and one key feature is never explained at all. It also contains two common tropes that I would think frustrate most readers: the person who keeps information to themselves for no good reason whatsoever and the person who fails to sufficiently consider the danger that others are in, thus leading to at least one unnecessary death.

Having said all that I was entertained and it was a pleasant way to start the New Year and end my Christmas holiday – so thank you to the wisdom of the crowd that helped me choose this last year as a prize – though I can’t advise you to rush out and get a copy.

The best quote in the book is when one character sums up Gethryn perfectly in saying:

“However much one may disapprove of the man himself as didactic, intolerant and offensive, one is forced to admit he brings brilliance to this type of problem.”

which reminded me very much of J. J. Connington’s Sir Clinton Driffield.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

It was at the bottom of my To Be Read pile when the 2019 challenge was issued (and even more appropriately it came from Bev as a 2018 checkpoint prize) so fulfils “Why – Simon Says”.


5 thoughts on “The List of Adrian Messenger by Philip MacDonald (1959)”

  1. Now I’ve adapted to the paucity of cues in MacDonald’s work, and the tendency to turn in simple plots bolstered by his own greater interest in some sort of innovation — see The Maze, The Rynox Mystery — he’s someone I enjoyu a great deal. I feel like he gets lumped in with detective fiction on account of the era in which he wrote, but there’s far too much creativity to consign him to even such broad ranks and he spills over into a category I have difficulty defining: a sober Edgar Wallace, or John Buchan but less frivolous, or Anthony Berkeley but even more erratic in his tone. One of these days I’ll pin it down…


    1. The only other MacDonald I’ve read is “The Rynox Mystery” which was very different from this but I have got “Murder Gone Mad” for later in the year. This definitely had elements of John Buchan and some foreshadowing of Frederick Forsyth.


      1. Murder Gone Mad is very different again — in no way a fiar play mystery, the guilty party comes out of nowhere, but fascinating for the methods employed (at least that’s hopefully what I said when I reviewed it…). I have The Polferry Riddle and Mystery at Friar’s Pardon (published under the nom de plume Martin Porlock) on my TBR and am thinking I’ll dust off one fairly soon — could do with a bit of his thrillerish hijinx in my life!


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