H.C. Bailey

Margery Allingham Philip MacDonald | The Rasp | The Link | Rynox | Murder Gone Mad | The Choice / The Polferry Riddle | The Crime Conductor | The Maze / Persons Unknown | R.I.P. / Menace | Warrant for X | The Wood-for-the-Trees

Lynn Brock | The Deductions of Colonel Gore

Anthony Gilbert | The Tragedy at Freyne | Death at Four Corners | The Body on the Beam | Death in Fancy Dress | Don't Open the Door / Death Lifts the Latch | Sequel to Murder: Short Stories | Other Short Stories

J.J. Connington | Murder in the Maze | The Case with Nine Solutions | The Sweepstake Murders | The Ha-Ha Case | Before Insulin | The Four Defences | After Death the Doctor

Gladys Mitchell | The Saltmarsh Murders | St. Peter's Finger | The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop | Sleuth's Alchemy: Short Stories

R.C. Woodthorpe | Death in a Little Town

Shelley Smith | He Died of Murder!

Josephine Bell | Death at the Medical Board | The Packet-Boat Murder | Fall Over Cliff | The Port of London Murders | The Thimble River Mystery | A Torch at the Window

Elizabeth Ferrars / E.X. Ferrars | The Casebook of Jonas P. Jonas

Anthony Wynne | Sinners Go Secretly: Short Stories | The Room with the Iron Shutters | Murder of a Lady | Murder in Thin Air

Sutherland Scott | Fiona Sinclair | Glyn Carr | Ruth Rendell |

A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection Home Page | Download a free E-book of my mystery stories in EPUB or Kindle format.

The Bailey School

Recommended Works:

H. C. Bailey

Call Mr. Fortune (collected 1919)

Mr. Fortune's Practice (collected 1923)

Mr. Fortune's Trials (collected 1925)

Mr. Fortune, Please (collected 1927)

Mr. Fortune Speaking (collected 1929)

Mr. Fortune Explains (collected 1930)

Case For Mr. Fortune (collected 1932)

Mr. Fortune Wonders (collected 1933) Mr. Fortune Objects (collected 1935) A Clue for Mr. Fortune (collected 1936) This Is Mr. Fortune (collected 1938) Mr. Fortune Here (collected 1940) Uncollected short stories The Bishop's Crime (1940) (Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 19, 23, 24, 25, 39, 40)

No Murder / The Apprehensive Dog (1942) (Chapters 1-4, 6, 8, 10, 14, 20-27, 36-39, start of 40)

Dead Man's Shoes / Nobody's Vineyard (1942) (Chapters 1-5, 8, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 29-31, 34-36)

Anthony Wynne

Sinners Go Secretly

C.E. Bechhofer Roberts

A.B.C. Hawkes stories

Margery Allingham

Sweet Danger (1933) (Chapters 1 - 5, 10)

Flowers for the Judge (1936) (Chapters: start of 1, 3, end of 9, first half of 10, second half of 20, 21)

Traitor's Purse (1940 - 1941) (Chapters 1 - 10)

Mr. Campion: Criminologist (collected 1937)

Mr. Campion and Others The Allingham Case-Book The Return of Mr. Campion Uncollected Mr. Campion short stories Deadly Duo No Love Lost

Philip MacDonald

The Rasp (1924) (Chapters 4, 17)

The Link (1930)

Rynox (1930)

Warrant for X / The Nursemaid Who Disappeared (1938) (Chapters 1, 5, 7, 8, 14)

Anthony Gethryn short stories:

Anthony Gilbert

Death at Four Corners (1929) (Chapters 1, 2.1)

The Body on the Beam (1932) (Chapters 1, 5.1, 8.1)

Sequel to Murder: The Cases of Arthur Crook and Other Stories (available from its publisher Crippen & Landru)

Josephine Bell

Short stories

Elizabeth Ferrars / E.X. Ferrars

The Casebook of Jonas P. Jonas and Other Mysteries (available from Crippen & Landru)

J. J. Connington

The Four Defences (1940)

Non-series short stories

Gladys Mitchell

Sleuth's Alchemy: Cases of Mrs. Bradley and Others (available from Crippen & Landru) The above is not a complete list of the authors' works. Rather, it consists of my picks of their best novels and short stories, the ones I enjoyed reading, and recommend to others.

The Bailey School

H.C. Bailey

H.C. Bailey was one of the most popular and most critically acclaimed writers of the Golden Age of detective stories (1920 - 1945).

Commentary on H.C. Bailey:

Unanimous critical acclaim at one time greeted Bailey's work. He was both praised and anthologized by S.S. Van Dine, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, and Howard Haycraft, a clean sweep of the great critics of the Golden Age. The Encyclopedia of Mystery and Detection says that he was the most popular mystery writer in Great Britain between the wars. This means that his works were more popular than Chesterton, Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers or Carr, something that seems incomprehensible today. British reviewer Torquemada called Mr. Fortune "our best-loved of all detectives" (in his 1937 review of Clunk's Claimant). I get very nice letters from contemporary enthusiasts of Bailey's fiction, so his work still has a significant following. Earl Emerson's Going Crazy in Public (1996) pays homage to Bailey, by including characters named both for H.C. Bailey himself, and for his lawyer detective Joshua Clunk.

The great critic Anthony Boucher opined in 1944 (in his review of Bailey's The Queen of Spades) that Bailey's best works were his Mr. Fortune short stories; the Mr. Fortune novels were in the middle rank; and his Joshua Clunk novels were Bailey's worst books. This Guide whole-heartedly agrees that the Mr. Fortune short stories are the center of Bailey's achievement.

Unfortunately, many readers today absolutely refuse to read short stories. This gives a distorted view of writers like Bailey. If you've only read Bailey's novels, and are unfamiliar with his many short story collections, you do not really know Bailey. Your ideas about Bailey will be completely wrong.

Bailey Approaches

The most typical 1930's story of Bailey, or one of his followers, has the following paradigm. The detective is usually a medical expert, a doctor or scientist who is also a member of Britain's upper classes, who works closely with Scotland Yard, and who is highly respected by them as a genius. He is assigned a case, one that often looks superficial or simple. The detective is disturbed by some simple looking clue, and suspects that some evil conspiracy is lurking in the background. He follows up on this, often over the protests of the police that he is making things too complicated, and discovers an incredibly evil conspiracy behind the wings. The goal of this conspiracy is to injure or kill some innocent helpless person, usually either a small child, or a defenseless young woman. The motive is usually greed, such as obtaining an inheritance, combined with a very sick mentality that sees nothing wrong in the torture of the innocent. Oftentimes the mechanism of this diabolical conspiracy is scientifically based, and the villain has a scientific or medical background, too. Detective work uncovers a hidden background to the current crime, often another crime in the past, one that forms a complex piece of mystery plot all on its own. At the end, there is a melodramatic finale, in which the detective struggles to keep the villain from committing yet further sinister crimes. Throughout the story there is an atmosphere of evil, combined with the action of melodrama.

One can see several problems with this formula from such a description. There is often a concentration on horror elements in such a work, an approach that has never been a favorite of mine (for whatever reason I have no interest in horror fiction whatsoever, marking me out as very different from the typical American reader of today). Secondly, there is often an emphasis on morbid psychology, a look inside sick minds. This was exactly the element about Bailey's tales that appealed to Dorothy L. Sayers, who felt that Bailey's work in this direction showed "originality", but it often just seems to me to be "sick".

There are also formal problems with the approach of the Bailey School. The hidden conspiracies and complex backgrounds of the tales are often "deduced" by the detective from the slenderest and most innocuous looking clues. It often seems to me that their approach violates the convention of "fair play", that there is no way an intelligent reader or other independent observer could actually deduce these complex background plots from such slender threads.

"The Little House" (1926) shows the above paradigm at its best. It is one of Bailey's most effective and gripping thrillers. While detection is de-emphasized in some Bailey works, sound mystery puzzle plotting fully occurs in others. Stories with good detective plotting are emphasized in this article.

The Bailey School: Realists Vs Intuitionists

Where does Bailey's work fit in detective fiction history? Certainly, Bailey and company considered themselves aligned with the fair play, puzzle plot detective stories of the Golden Age. I would agree, with the caveat that the Bailey school's work often fails badly in the "fair play" department.

Within the Golden Age, where does Bailey's fiction fit? Is he aligned with the "intuitionist" school of Chesterton and Christie, or with the "realist" school of Freeman and Crofts? S.S. Van Dine firmly associated Bailey with the intuitionists, as Bailey's detectives, like Christie's, get their solutions by a mix of intuition and logical deduction, instead of anything resembling the realistic detective work of Freeman and Crofts. While Van Dine has a point, it also seems to me that Bailey's work is quite a ways off from what Jon L. Breen calls the Main Street of the detective story centered on such great intuitionist writers as Christie, Queen and Carr. One might add that Bailey's introduction "Mr. Fortune" to the collection Meet Mr. Fortune disavows that there is anything "intuitionist" about his sleuth.

The Bailey School's work also has some features in common with that of Freeman and his followers. The presence of doctors as detectives, combined with the frequent use of scientific or medical techniques to commit crimes, seems similar to Freeman's work. Bailey himself often used physical clues from which Mr. Fortune made deductions à la Dr. Thorndyke. Especially in the earlier stories, Mr. Fortune often concentrates on forensic analysis of the body to reconstruct the crime, also in the Thorndyke tradition. He combines this with a thorough look for other physical evidence at the crime scene. The clues also sometimes draw on natural history of plants in the vicinity of the crime, another Freeman-like idea. All these features make it likely that Mr. Fortune was originally conceived with Dr. Thorndyke as a model. The Fortune stories also occasionally deal with antiquities, another Freeman theme. There are tiny ancient statuettes from prehistoric cultures that serve as clues in such early Bailey stories as "The Young God" (1925).

Mr. Fortune loves to quote phrases from classic literature, a trait perhaps derived from another Realist school pioneer, E. C. Bentley.

Some Mr. Fortune tales echo Bentley's negative views of the wealthy:

"The Profiteers" contains a brief but memorable statement of Supt. Bell's religious views, a subject that returns in "The Cat Burglar". In "The Business Minister", both Bell and Fortune agree that the tale's devilish villain must lack religion - a view that would be hotly debated by today's atheists and agnostics.

However, the extremely melodramatic storytelling of the Bailey School seems like the dialectical antithesis of Freeman and Crofts, who stressed sober realism in all things. Bailey has little interest in alibis, and that Realist school standby "the breakdown of identity" rarely occurs in his fiction.

Nor does the Bailey school typically create "Backgrounds" that realistically depict some industry or social institution, although perhaps the North Country local color in Bailey's The Red Castle (1932) comes close. However, medicine and medical institutions furnish what might be considered as a Background in some works by Bailey, Allingham, Josephine Bell. And the occasional depiction of foreign countries in Bailey School writers can also be considered a kind of Background.

All in all, it makes sense to consider Bailey and his followers as a "third school", one directly allied with neither Chesterton and Christie, nor with Freeman and Crofts. I have never seen any attempt at all to "place" Wynne or Bechhofer Roberts in detective fiction history; both are fairly obscure writers. I have grouped them with Bailey on grounds of perceived similarities with his works. And although Ernest Bramah preceded Bailey by a decade as an author, some of his 1920's works show some affinities to the Bailey school. Such works as "The Mystery of the Poisoned Dish of Mushrooms" and "The Disappearance of Marie Severe" deal with children in jeopardy. They also have the medical background that often shows up in Bailey.

Bailey's first Mr. Fortune tales appeared in book form in 1919, a year before the appearance of Freeman Wills Crofts' The Cask (1920) and Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920), often taken as the start of the Golden Age. Bailey did not publish a mystery novel till 1930, concentrating on short stories, instead. This emphasis on the short form seems more typical of the pre-Golden Age era of Doyle and early Freeman, rather than of the 1920-1950 period in which most of Bailey's mystery fiction actually appeared.

There are Doyle like elements in Bailey's Mr. Fortune stories:

Bailey Themes

It has been fashionable in mystery fiction criticism to assert that, while Raymond Chandler and other hard-boiled writers often criticized police corruption, Golden Age writers depicted society as wholly good, and the police as agents and guardians of social virtue. W.H. Auden described Golden Age fiction as a fairy tale in which a few bad individuals were cleansed out of a good society. I feel very dubious about this whole critical approach; it is especially off in the case of Bailey. Bailey was extremely skeptical of the police. Such tales of his as "The Cat Burglar" (1926), "The Little Finger", "The Yellow Cloth" (1938) and "The Brown Paper" and the novels Black Land, White Land (1937) and The Wrong Man (1945) air many criticisms of the police, from corruption to police hounding of innocent suspects.

Other British set Golden Age novels that criticize police corruption include:

Please see my list of Civic Corruption and Police Corruption in Mystery Fiction.

Bailey's tales are notable for their bloodthirstiness. There is often not one crime going on in a short story, but multiple killings, assaults, disappearances, burglaries, arson, con games, you name it. This is not merely a matter of melodrama, although Bailey exploits the lurid potential of such events to the max. It also aids Bailey's puzzle plotting. Bailey often shifts roles in the solution of his plots. What was assumed to be done by one character, was in fact done by another. Even before the solution, much of the criminal investigation done by Mr. Fortune and the police consists of speculations about the perpetrators of the crimes in the tale, with a constantly shifting perspective on who might have committed them. Bailey is uninhibited about coincidence. He finds nothing odd in a situation where two or three criminals are all running amok at once, piling up interlocked crimes that are all attributed to each other.

Quotations and Cultural References

In "The Football Photograph", several of Mr. Fortune's quotes of poetry turn out to be from traditional British inspirational hymns and moralizing educational poems. "Duty, stern daughter of the voice of God" is from William Wordsworth's "Ode to Duty" (1815); "Do the work that's nearest, / Though it's dull at whiles, / Helping, when we meet them, / Lame dogs over stiles" is by Charles Kingsley, social reformer and proponent of "muscular Christianity"; Methodist Charles Wesley scripted the 1749 hymn, "And are we yet alive, and see each other's face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for His almighty grace!" This anticipates Bailey's other sleuth, Joshua Clunk, who also likes to quote Methodist hymns. Both Fortune here and later Clunk quote poems that praise work, and urge people to do it - a strong theme.

"The Hazel Ice" also subtly refers to the above texts:

"The Cat's Milk" also quotes Charles Kingsley. "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever" and "Do noble things, not dream them all day long" are from "A Farewell" (1856).

In "The Yellow Cloth", Fortune quotes the phrase "We are not divided, all one body we" from the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers". In "The Wedding-Ring" the phrase "Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise" is from the same hymn.

Bailey liked Greek tragedy:

Other Fortune tales quote Victorian poems. These poems are likely not much read nowadays, but perhaps were popular in the 1930's. Aside from the gifted Longfellow and Tennyson, they are vivid and memorable, but lack the sublime lyrical and musical qualities of Elizabethan and Romantic verse: "Zodiacs" has perhaps more highbrow authors. It opens with Reggie quoting John Dryden: "When I consider life, 'tis all a cheat". And later has Reggie falling asleep trying to read a play by Pirandello. A Pirandello play is also read by a suspect in "The German Song".

In "The Football Photograph" some quotes at the tale's end are also from prestige writers. "Journeys end in lovers meeting" is from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. "Yet once more, oh ye laurels, and once more" is from Milton's Lycidas. "Only that and nothing more" is from Poe's The Raven.

In "The Wedding-Ring" the phrase "everlasting void" is from Goethe's Faust.

There are also seeming quotations in Bailey that I have failed to trace. "What is life that one should seek it" is said by Mr. Fortune in "The Long Dinner", Black Land, White Land (near start of Chapter 13) and elsewhere. Is it actually a quotation - or did Bailey write it himself?

Animals and Plants

In general, many of Bailey's best tales are woven around charming knowledge of some subject: nature, antiquities, art.

Plants. Several stories of Bailey's use clues involving plants. See the wildflowers in "The Yellow Diamonds", the moss in "The Broken Toad". Bailey knew a great deal about the flowers and trees growing in both the English countryside and in suburban gardens. Traces of these are always being found on bodies and at crime scenes.

"The Hazel Ice" is set in the Swiss Alps. It mentions several kinds of Swiss wildflowers, including "Faith-of-men". I confess I have never heard of this flower, and an Internet search fails to identify it.

One of the few things I like about "The Swimming Pool" (1936) are the flowers along the creek leading into the pool. One kind serves as a clue.

"The Torn Stocking" does a good job describing plants in the garden of the murder house. However, they do not serve as clues.

Animals. Bailey likes butterflies and moths; he is almost as interested in these creatures as R. Austin Freeman was in mammals. Some of his stories give vivid pictures of butterfly hunting in the between the wars British countryside, especially "The Long Barrow" and "The Holy Well".

Other invertebrates show up in Bailey: "The Hermit Crab", "The Yellow Slugs", the disease-spreading lice in Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig. "The Face in the Picture" opens with a brief reference to a case Reggie has just concluded: "The malingering professor and the beetles". One would love to read this. And in "Zodiacs", when Mr. Fortune is in a gloomy mood, the tale comically symbolizes this to the nth degree by having him read a "monograph on extinct worms".

There are also more conventional animals in Bailey, such as the pet cat in "The Little House", and the cats in "The Torn Stocking".

Police: Continuing Characters

Mordan. The presence in "The Cat Burglar" (1926) of ex-Scotland Yard Inspector Mordan, now a private inquiry agent, echoes the regular appearance in Crofts of the British version of the private eye. Mordan is one of the more interesting recurring characters in the Fortune series.

"The Torn Stocking" is a tale that looks back on Reggie Fortune's early days as a police consultant. It shows Inspector Mordan, still working for Scotland Yard at this point. We see Mordan's acerbic character.

The Continent. Bailey set a pair of his tales on the European continent. "The Hazel Ice" (1927) is an uneven story. But it develops an approach that Bailey would use with perfection later, in "The Face in the Picture": a continental setting, Fortune bonding with a sophisticated, charming, and highly competent official of a foreign police force, and a mystery against a specialized background in that same country:

Fortune's relationship with both policemen offers a pleasing variation on his ongoing friendship with Lomas.

The French policeman, Dubois, appeared earlier in "The German Song", and will return in "The Mountain Meadow" (his poorest story) and "The Long Dinner" (1935). He also makes a cameo appearance in Black Land, White Land (near start of Chapter 17). The Swiss Herr Stein returns in Shadow on the Wall (1934) (Chapters 19, 21).

One suspects that showing Stein and Dubois as such admirable people is Bailey's way of paying tribute to Switzerland and France. These two detectives stand for their countries. This sort of tribute to foreign sleuths, and implicitly to their countries, also appears in other mystery writers. See the portrait of Constable Duvette of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Compartment K (1955) by Helen Reilly.

The Archduke's Tea & The Missing Husband

An early pair of tales is "The Archduke's Tea" and "The Missing Husband" (1926), in which an outsider wife is suspected of attacks on her aristocratic husband. Both of these works suffer from having only one real suspect aside from the wife - not a very mysterious situation. Bailey succeeds in bringing home the crime to the Most Likely Suspect, not a good paradigm for the mystery.

However, "The Missing Husband" shows sound detective work, with Fortune using logical steps to track down the killer. This work makes absorbing reading. SPOILER. "The Missing Husband" is an early example of modern-day ballistics work used to identify a gun. Such an approach is standard today, but was perhaps innovative in the 1920's. Fortune also makes deductions using blood stains. In addition to such scientific forensic techniques, Fortune uses a non-technological but sound approach: finding out who was the last person to see the victim alive.

Origins. The chief merit of the otherwise forgettable "The Archduke's Tea", which is the first Mr. Fortune story, is that it introduces recurring Scotland Yard characters the Honorable Stanley Lomas, chief of the Criminal Investigation Department, and his associate Superintendent Bell, and gives perhaps the best description of these men found in the series.

"The Archduke's Tea" is also an origin story for Mr. Fortune himself. Its characterization of Fortune does not gibe well with later accounts: Fortune is shown as a somewhat lazy young man from the upper classes. Later stories show Fortune as a whirlwind of energy, and someone who exhorts others to make more of an effort.

"The Torn Stocking" is apparently a late story from the 1930's. But it looks back to the time of Reggie Fortune's early cases. It shows him discovering his vocation as a police consultant / detective. Lomas is prominent in "The Torn Stocking". But neither Bell nor Underwood appear.


Bailey tales are often about kidnappings. These stories tend to come in pairs: The stone in "The Magic Stone" and other objects from Borneo have the bright color imagery sometimes found in Bailey.

SPOILERS. "The Wedding-Ring" is a story that introduces a kidnapping in its finale. It has not apparently been about a kidnapping, throughout most of the tale. In retrospect, though, one can see that the kidnapping was part of the plot all along.

The Young God & The Nice Girl

Other Bailey tales also come in pairs. "The Young God" (1925) is a greatly improved version of material found earlier in "The Nice Girl". Both stories involve: The earlier story "The Nice Girl" has some offensive stereotypes. Bailey has also made the characters more likable in the second tale "The Young God", and deepened the amount of mystery.

The Cat's Milk & The Broken Toad

"The Cat's Milk" (1928) and "The Broken Toad" (1934) share subject matter. Both: "The Broken Toad" is better than "The Cat's Milk". "The Broken Toad" has some good detective work. "The Cat's Milk" suffers from an arbitrary, un-clued choice of villain.

"The Broken Toad" is an example of how the the emphasis on abnormal psychology damages some of Bailey's work. "The Broken Toad" starts out promisingly, with an original premise in the crime and its victim. Next, Mr. Fortune does a good piece of detective work right away, finding forensic evidence that narrows down who might have killed the victim: the clue about the stomach contents. He does further sound, if more routine and ordinary, detective work at the crime scene, using evidence from plants (a Bailey favorite) and a statue to reconstruct the crime. The crime scene, a pair of British suburban gardens, shows the Golden Age interest in landscape.

However, at this point the tale collapses. The rest of the story de-emphasizes detection, in favor of examining the morbid psychology of the killer, and the psychological failings of the killer's dysfunctional family. The abnormal psychology is also a portrait in human evil: a typical Bailey approach. "The Broken Toad" doesn't technically involve a conspiracy: a conspiracy by definition involves two or more people, and there is only one villain in "The Broken Toad". However, the large scale of the villain's activities resembles the huge conspiracies of other Bailey tales. So does the greed that motivates the criminal. A hidden story about the past emerges: a Bailey favorite. Anything like a fair play mystery puzzle vanishes: there is no way for the reader to deduce the identity of the killer. There are also no hidden schemes that the reader can deduce logically. "The Broken Toad" is a whodunit, but abnormal psychology replaces detection and deduction.

The Football Photograph

"The Football Photograph" (1929) is a sort of police procedural. It follows Fortune and his police colleagues as they collect evidence and gradually close in on a murderer. It is not fair play - the reader can only watch as Fortune makes his deductions from physical and medical evidence. It is absorbingly written, with an interesting look at working class life and settings. Fortune himself says it is unusual in his work, in that he has no "emotions" in the case - since there are no strong issues of protecting the innocent, just tracking down a routine murder. This somehow makes a good counterpoint with the mechanical clockwork type effect of gathering more and more evidence.

The tale involves motorcycles, that favorite form of transport of the British Realist School. In "The Football Photograph" they are associated with working class characters, something not always the case in the era's crime fiction.

The porter's coat has the bright color imagery Bailey liked. So does a suspect's red hair, and the red blind of the bar. Both the porter's coat and suspect play key roles in the plot. This anticipates Ellery Queen, who regularly highlighted key plot aspects with bright color.

"The Football Photograph" contains a complete courtroom drama. Inquests are ubiquitous in classic detective fiction; murder trials as in "The Football Photograph" are less common. Both the prosecutor and the judge are well-defined characters.

SPOILERS. The setting in the tale's finale includes a remote country bar with sinister secrets submerged in a pool out back. This anticipates the film Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960), with its remote country motel and sinister secrets sunken in a swamp.

The Little House: a short story

"The Little House" shows an approach that runs through Bailey: an initial mystery premise that is unusual, perhaps even unique. Bailey mysteries do not always begin with a standard mystery puzzle, such as "who killed a murder victim?"

Also, for some such opening mystery situations, it is hard to imagine any logical explanation at all. The premise of "The Little House" looks as if it is going to be mildly difficult to explain. The off-trail mystery premise of "The Old Bible" will be much harder to explain in rational terms.

Links to Morrison. Plot elements in "The Little House" echoes events in "The Case of Laker, Absconded" (1895) by Arthur Morrison:

The Hazel Ice: a short story

No Fair Play, No Clues. The solution to "The Hazel Ice" (1929) is not fair play. At the tale's end, we get an elaborate back-story which motivates the murder. There is no way any reader could deduce this back-story from clues in the tale. This is a genuine flaw, and likely to (justifiably) annoy people on a first reading.

However, the back-story is interesting, considered as a work of story-telling. And it does logically explain the complex interactions of the characters throughout the tale.

Similarly, there are no clues that allow the reader to identify the killer: also a flaw.

Background. "The Hazel Ice" also has some unequivocal virtues. Its portrait of Swiss mountains, mountain climbing, and possible catastrophes is a skillfully done Background. (By the way, the story takes place at real towns in Switzerland: Interlaken, Kandersteg and Murren.)

Culinary note: in both Swiss tales "The Hazel Ice" and Shadow on the Wall, Reggie is consuming "ices", a sweet concoction, hazel-flavored in "The Hazel Ice", greengage-flavored in Shadow on the Wall. The ices have nothing to do with the plot of either story - they are just there to add some colorful detail.

Mystery Plot: Solutions. "The Hazel Ice" offers numerous proposed solutions, throughout the course of the story. These are logical and clever. They give the tale a mystery-plot interest that goes a long way towards compensating for the unfortunate lack of fair play in the story's finale. The solutions are not highlighted and "The Hazel Ice" is not an ostentatiously "multi-solutioned mystery", however. The solutions just keep emerging, mainly in the dialogues between sleuths Herr Stein and Reggie Fortune.

Stein: A Good Character. Herr Stein, the good-guy Swiss policeman who is a detective friend of Mr. Fortune's, is a well-developed character:

As is common with Golden Age detectives, we learn all about Stein's personality, and his detective skills. He is vividly characterized in both of these dimensions, and seems like a real and interesting person. But we learn nothing about his personal life or history: also typical of the Golden Age. We never learn his first name. We do learn that Stein is heterosexual: he is bowled over by the beauty of Mrs. Fortune.

Stein's actions and ideas keep the plot of "The Hazel Ice" bubbling. New stuff keeps happening when he is around. His characterization as a policeman is not designed purely to make him an interesting person, but also to advance the plot.

Forensics. As is common in many Mr. Fortune tales, Reggie's forensic work gives a novel interpretation of the crime.

The Greek Play & The Holy Well: short stories

"The Greek Play" (1930) and "The Holy Well" are a linked pair of tales.

Both have somewhat similar hidden criminal schemes and motives for their crimes. The one in "The Holy Well" is more elaborate, but the simpler one in "The Greek Play" is better concealed. Uncovering these schemes is the main puzzle plot of the tales. This makes the mystery puzzle aspects somewhat bare-bones and simple in both works.

"The Point of the Knife" (1940) is a late tale that involves a criminal scheme and motive related to "The Greek Play" and "The Holy Well". See also Clunk's Claimant.

"The Greek Play" has a good Background depiction of a girl's school, not just the school life itself, but its upper class sponsors. It is rich in description and commentary on social class: one of the most pointed social critiques in Bailey. While issues of social class still play a role in "The Holy Well", including a brief critique, they are brief and less emphasized.

Instead, "The Holy Well" has an unpleasant emphasis on abnormal psychology, something all too common in Bailey, but mercifully absent from "The Greek Play".

In general, "The Greek Play" is a much more appealing story than "The Holy Well". However, one area in which "The Holy Well" has an advantage, is in the reasons Reggie Fortune gives near the start of each investigation, for disbelieving the official, apparent version of the crimes. In "The Greek Play" this is just some simple, if sound, analysis of body blows on the victim. In "The Holy Well", this is a more elaborate look at the natural world and moth collecting, something quite colorful.

The Violet Farm & The Hole in the Parchment: short stories

"The Violet Farm" and "The Hole in the Parchment" are a linked pair of tales. SPOILERS. Both involve valuable antiquities as motives for their crimes.

BIG SPOILERS. Both do good jobs, at fastening the crimes on characters that readers never suspected. This is quite ingenious in both tales. The revelations of these villains is a clever surprise in both tales. Throughout the course of both tales, the readers' attention instead is focused on a domestic circle of suspects, thinking that the villain is found within this circle. The real criminal is instead found outside this circle.

While the motives are quite different, the technique in "The Violet Farm" and "The Hole in the Parchment" recalls that in "The Greek Play" (1930) and "The Holy Well": with well-hidden motives leading to persecution and attacks on the main characters, by outsiders they and the reader don't suspect.

The Lion Fish

"The Lion Fish" (1927) is an odd mix of the who-done-it and the thriller. In some ways, it is a pure detective story: However "The Lion Fish" differs from most who-done-it mysteries in that the killer is likely the mastermind of a gang. We learn this likely fact immediately, and the tale sticks to this supposition throughout. Murders by organized crime tend to be more the domain of the thriller, rather than the detective-mystery tale.

The first half of "The Lion Fish" takes place in the city, the second half in the country. This allows for a rich mix of contexts. So do the varied social classes of the characters.

Phone Intervention. SPOILERS. Reggie and the helpful phone expert Brock intervene in phone calls. This scene, published in 1927, reminds one of TV crime shows today, in which expert technicians sit in computer labs and do sophisticated things to fight crime.

Teacakes. Reggie consumes teacakes, something I'd never heard of. The Wikipedia on teacakes has answers.

The Long Dinner

"The Long Dinner" (1935) is a grim, horror-filled tale. I find it emotionally upsetting, and don't recommend it. But it is a famous, much-anthologized tale.

"The Long Dinner" draws on elements also found in other Bailey works. SPOILERS:

Dubois says of Fortune "He makes one always doubt." As the tale suggests, this is a profound statement about reasoning.

The finale raises disturbing questions about science, religion and ethics. The case described in the story is too unusual to lead to deep real-world conclusions about these topics. But as science was about to unleash terrible weapons in World War II, concern about science and morality was hardly out of place.

The Yellow Slugs

"The Yellow Slugs" (1935) is another tale with too much horror in it for my taste, like "The Long Dinner". Both tales are collected in Mr. Fortune Objects.

"The Yellow Slugs" is one of Bailey's tales of children in jeopardy.

The story is set in a town named Blaney, apparently not far from London. The grinding poverty of the area is conveyed. There is a real-life village of Blaney in Northern Ireland, but Bailey's English town of Blaney is likely fictitious.

A positive feature of the story: the depiction of various regions of Blaney Common, a local park-like area. British mystery writers loved tales set on areas like the Common, such as Hampstead Heath. We don't get a map of Blaney Common. But it is an example of the Golden Age interest in landscape.

SPOILERS. The kids' lair is the most inventive feature of the Common. Its pebbles recall the rocks, stones and pebbles sometimes found in Bailey tales. The flower petals are examples of Bailey's interest in plants, and also his love of color. It is a kind of rock garden: recalling Bailey's tale "The Rock Garden".

We learn about various rooms at the store. In a simple way, this exemplifies Golden Age interest in architecture.

Also good: the sound detection involving the slugs of the title. Reggie's discoveries go through a series of stages. Each of the last two discoveries leads to a new truth about the mystery. Mainly, these discoveries help Reggie reconstruct the crime.

The yellow slugs get the title, in part because they are a piece of vivid imagery. They also have the bright color imagery sometimes found in Bailey. But more importantly, because the slugs are at the center of the tale's detective work. Detection is important in traditional mystery fiction.

Ghost Stories and Related Mysteries

"The Profiteers" (1925) and "The Rock Garden" (1930) are unusual among the Mr. Fortune tales in being ghost stories. As long as the reader knows this to be the case they make pleasant enough reading. However, anyone who thinks the ghostly events of the tales are impossible crimes that are going to be explained rationally at the end, is in for a severe let-down.

"The Rock Garden" also has a genuine mystery in its plot, separate from the ghost story.

"The Long Barrow" (1925), "The Painted Pebbles" (1927) and "The Rock Garden" (1930) are among those Fortune stories in which he goes into a country house in which all sorts of strange emotional cross-currents and oddly spooky events are taking place - but no apparent crime. Fortune has to untangle the hidden emotional relationships of the characters - and usually discovers that some sort of sinister scheme is taking place under the surface. The stories also have similarities in the kinds of personal relationships among the characters which Fortune uncovers.

All three involve a strange earthworks of some sort, near the house; in the first two these are of archaeological significance.

All three invoke superstitious practices, for eerie effect - although as already said, "The Rock Garden" does not explain this away at the end.

The best of these is the first, "The Long Barrow".

Weird Science: The Pink Macaw

"The Pink Macaw" (1928) involves a made-up tropical disease, that has unusual properties, and is "unknown to science". "Explaining" a mystery in terms of a fictitious, imaginary disease is almost as disappointing as using ghosts to "explain" an impossible crime. "The Pink Macaw" is one of Bailey's least interesting short stories.

In "The Pink Macaw" the victim's daughter, unable to get any sort of earthly justice against the rich man who killed him, believes the wealthy man will be punished with hell. Similarly, a woman whose innocent father is being hounded by the police in "The Little Finger", threatens the policeman with hell. The tales suggest that Bailey agrees with these women.

The Love Bird

The best tale in the collection Mr. Fortune Wonders is the sparkling comedy, "The Love Bird". This story shows Bailey's gifts at Oscar Wilde-like repartee dialog and richly described settings at their fullest. Also memorable as a comic tale: "The Fairy Cycle". (A fairy cycle seems to be what the English used to call a starter-bicycle for very young children.)

"The Love Bird" is full of mystery puzzles. And these puzzles are all off-trail. Bailey seems to delight in coming up with puzzling situations, that have never been seen in mystery fiction before. I will not spoil the story by saying what it is: but the central puzzle is jaw-droppingly unusual.

The Old Bible

A very serious story "The Old Bible" also has a mystery puzzle that is completely unique. Mr. Fortune is presented with a mystery situation that just does not seem to make sense, in terms of psychology, previous murder cases, practical circumstances. He has to explain this. The story is not a whodunit so much as a what-the heck-is-going-on puzzle. Like "The Love Bird", this is a new and unusual puzzle situation that has not been seen before.

Bailey's Prose Style. Even in something as serious as "The Old Bible", there is a good deal of social satire on the characters Fortune meets. The dialog technique still derives from comedy-of-manners, even though it is dark and grim. After the police present Mr. Fortune with the outrageously strange puzzle in "The Old Bible", he tells them: "You're offerin' me a miracle. That's not decent in a policeman." One hears the voice of Oscar Wilde. It's a witty, clever burlesque, of conventional phrases of social propriety.

H.C. Bailey comes out of a comedy of manners tradition in the theater: Wilde, Maugham, Shaw, Coward. There are acres of clever dialog, wittily playing on phrases from literature, oratory, and ingenious shifts of subject matter. There is a mastery of English expression, rhetoric and repartee. This is intermixed with descriptive passages that appeal richly to the senses: colors, sounds, nature imagery, food descriptions, landscapes.

Bailey loves the Bible, and quotes from it memorably in "The Old Bible".

The Comic Short Stories: The Snowball Burglary & The Hermit Crab & The Lion Party

Each of the early Fortune collections has a comic story. These tales deal with crimes much less serious than murder. Although they have the form of mystery tales, they eventually reveal burlesque solutions. The tales seem to spoof the mystery as a form. This is especially true of "The Snowball Burglary".

"The Snowball Burglary" is a rare example in Bailey of an intricate "timetable of the suspects' movements during the crime" mystery, an approach he usually eschews. Bailey shows he can pull this off with imagination.

"The Hermit Crab" is an extreme example of a Dr. Thorndyke like deduction from natural facts, also used for somewhat of a burlesque.

"The Snowball Burglary" and "The Hermit Crab" form another of Bailey's story pairs. Both have a similar "extra mystery" in their story's final pages, with a similar kind of solution.

A slightly later comic tale, "The Lion Party" (1926), is another work in the direct pattern of "The Snowball Burglary", with a house party leading to a series of complex incidents.

The 1920's comic tales, such as "The Snowball Burglary", "The Leading Lady", "The Lion Party" (1926) and "Zodiacs" (1927), form one of the richest strands in Bailey's writings. But they are little known today, unfortunately. Anthologists have tended to prefer serious stories, and these playful ones are not much reprinted. All of these works show formal ingenuity, however, and show plot imagination that is not always present in Bailey's grim thriller tales.

Zodiacs & The Leading Lady

"Zodiacs" (1927) looks like a conventional mystery, at first, but it actually is more like one of Bailey's comic tales in disguise. Its sophisticated dialogue is delightful, and full of funny repartee.

Its plot eventually develops approaches in common with some of Bailey's comic tales. "Zodiacs" has some structural approaches in common with "The Leading Lady", an earlier story that also bears an ambiguous relationship with the comic tales. Both of these can be considered as experimental mysteries, works that playfully bend the paradigms of the mystery tale.

One wonders if Agatha Christie remembered "The Leading Lady", when she wrote the classic climax of The Tuesday Club Murders, "The Affair at the Bungalow". Both have actress characters, both show experimental variations on mystery paradigms, although these variations are different in each author.

"Zodiacs" takes place in locales reflecting Bailey traditions:

Case for Mr. Fortune

Case for Mr. Fortune (collected 1932) is one of Bailey's most obscure collections, rarely reprinted or discussed. When I finally tracked down a library copy, I discovered why. Only two of these tales are unequivocally good: "The Greek Play" (1930) and "The Little Dog". A third story "The Sported Oak" has some interest. Many of the rest are deeply flawed.

"The Mountain Meadow" comes to an unexpected solution: a positive feature. But the tale has problems. There's an ugly piece of racial imagery. And French policeman Dubois, so likable in his other stories, is made to be both a bully towards witnesses and incompetent at his job: an unpleasant change of characterization.

"The Mountain Meadow" is set in highland scenery, recalling "The Hazel Ice", set in the Swiss Alps and guest starring continuing character Swiss policeman Stein. "The Mountain Meadow" has broadly similar scenery, but is set in the French Alps, which causes French policeman Dubois to be the guest star.

"The Walrus Ivory" is just plain racist, with two minority characters among the crooks. The tale tries to give some balance by including a briefly-seen slick young Jewish solicitor among the good guys. But this is too little, too late, after the other stereotypes.

"The Walrus Ivory" has some decent material, especially the code message, and the setting of the final suspense passage. It would have been a not-bad tale, had Bailey left out the racism.

"The Bunch of Grapes" is about some emotionally disturbed people and their machinations in a suburban town. It is unpleasant. And none too creative as a mystery, either. A character is a Vicar, making it one of Bailey's ecclesiastical mysteries. However, it does not deeply involve religion or Church life.

"The Pair of Spectacles" looks at a dysfunctional family. They are unpleasant. And the tale has few compensatory features, either. It is mainly uninteresting.

"The Oak Gall" has Bailey's dynamic story telling throughout. Unfortunately, it is less of a mystery story, and more of an (odd) crime-fiction-without-mystery. The tale's finale is also unpleasantly morbid and downbeat, looking at a dysfunctional family. So while the tale is absorbing reading, it leaves an overall rather negative impression.

"The Sported Oak" is a tale of University life. It recalls Bailey's earlier "comic mysteries", in its humor, off-trail solution, and lack of murder or violence. Especially the solution and its motive are original. Unfortunately, I found the story telling more labored and less zesty than the best of Bailey's comic works.

Mr. Fortune Novels

Mr. Fortune eventually appeared in a series of novels. None I have read is remotely as good as the best Mr. Fortune short stories.

Shadow on the Wall

Shadow on the Wall (1934) is the first Mr. Fortune novel. It mentions Bailey's other series sleuth Joshua Clunk, underscoring that Clunk belongs to the same "universe" as Fortune (Chapter 22).

Politicians. Shadow on the Wall looks at a circle of British politicians and their friends. While the novel takes a satiric look at politicians, it can hardly be said to be a "political novel", since the characters' actual political beliefs are never discussed. Instead, we get glimpses of the characters' political careers, maneuverings in the House of Commons, and jockeying for political advantage. Bailey's tone is gossipy, and full of sordid detail on the politicians' lives. It is unclear to me how realistic Bailey's account is, or whether it has substance in its portrait of 1930's political life.

Shadow on the Wall is both uneven and episodic. It can seem like a bunch of short stories, loosely strung together. Two long sections are fairly well written. The opening (Chapters 1 - 7) centers on a costume party at Lady Rosnay's London mansion, and a second section (Chapters 11 - 15) reunites the same characters for a weekend party in Lady Rosnay's country house. Both sections are in the full Golden Age life-among-the-social-elite mode. They are also among the most novelistic parts of the book, fully concentrating on a group of characters and their social interactions. These are the parts of the novel, that give a portrait of the politicians and their circle. The second, weekend party section, seems modeled on an earlier Mr. Fortune short story, "The Love Bird".

An Anti-Drug Thriller. However, other sections of Shadow on the Wall offer drastic and usually uninspired changes of pace. They give a look at the drug trade among chic British swells, that is as unrealistic and fantastic as the similar unbelievable looks at drug conspiracies in Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. These sections also take us away from the book's main characters.

Swiss police detective Herr Stein returns, after his earlier appearance in "The Hazel Ice". SPOILERS. He and Fortune investigate possible drug smuggling in the cosmetics manufacturing industry (Chapters 19, 21). These sections have a bit of a "scientific feel", with chemical information about cosmetics included. Stein's earlier "The Hazel Ice" dealt with a related kind of manufacturing: the chemical industry and synthetic rubber.

In Shadow on the Wall we get to see Stein in his police office, something not shown in "The Hazel Ice".

Gays. The early chapters of Shadow on the Wall contain repeated references to gays. The acerbic Society leader Lady Rosnay wonders if Fortune himself and Lomas have developed "Platonic affection", something Reggie humorously denies. Such references to Plato were one of the few respectable ways for upper class Britons to mention gay love. She is soon evoking Oscar Wilde: the symbol of gay men for generations of British (Chapter 1).

Society gossip Bertie Luttrell says that of two male politicians with an intense friendship, one has "simply fallen for the" other. He dresses up this statement with a mountain of gay innuendo (Chapter 2).

These ideas are not much developed in the rest of the novel. Shadow on the Wall does not seem to have opinions, pro or con, on the value of gayness. It does treat gayness mainly as a matter of negative gossip: an unfortunate point of view.

Description. A brief description of the Alpine glow (end of Chapter 19) is well done. It shows Bailey's interest in atmosphere and outdoor light effects.

Swiss police detective Herr Stein explains the glow: as in "The Hazel Ice", Stein is linked to a love for and understanding of beautiful Swiss mountain scenery.

Mystery Plot. As a mystery puzzle, Shadow on the Wall is pretty dismal. The explanations of events that eventually appear are far-fetched. They also are sketchy and inadequately detailed, a problem that will be even more pronounced in the next Mr. Fortune novel Black Land, White Land.

The choice of villains is hardly clued, and also makes little sense in terms of what we have seen of their previous characterizations.

Best part of the solution: Mr. Fortune's analysis of a conspiracy (Chapter 18). This involves Fortune's finding common elements in a series of cases. The conspiracy itself also shows imagination.

SPOILERS. Shadow on the Wall builds both in ideas and structure on an earlier Fortune short story, "The Unknown Murderer":

Black Land, White Land

Lack of Explanations. Black Land, White Land (1937) is a Mr. Fortune novel with strange flaws. The solution fails to explain much of the previous mystery novel. The most interesting subplot - that dealing with police corruption - barely gets any explanation in the solution at all! And the choice of killer does little to explain the suspicious activities and emotional churnings among the more obvious suspects - one of whom should definitely have been picked as the murderer, instead. The book virtually feels like a mystery novel without a solution.

The text also refers throughout to the fact of Mr. Fortune having made deductions and discoveries at many points, which one expects to be shared with the reader at the eventual denouement. This does not happen, either.

This is all too bad, because the book is well written and absorbing as a piece of storytelling. It is above average in terms of literary style. Still, most readers will prefer to enjoy Bailey's rich prose style in his best short stories, where the style is wedded to logical and complete mystery plots.

Landscape. Some of the landscape descriptions are very good, particularly when Bailey gets into the limestone and chalk regions. Such regions fascinated R. Austin Freeman before him: see Freeman's "The Green Check Jacket".

The title Black Land, White Land refers to two types of soil in rural England. It has nothing to do with race or ethnic conflicts.

Characters. Brown, the nouveau riche man who is buying up much of the property in the old village, recalls a bit the millionaire in Masks Off at Midnight (1933 - 1934) by Valentine Williams.

Tracy, a nasty man who likes to hurt in his remarks (Chapter 1), reminds one of the nasty painter Artus in "The Face in the Picture".

The Bishop's Crime

The Bishop's Crime (1940) is a Mr. Fortune novel. While uneven, it has several good sections. These sections are influenced by techniques and approaches Bailey developed previously in short stories. The Bishop's Crime can read like an encyclopedia of Bailey techniques. (Specific influences are documented below, throughout the article.)

Small Town Local Color. It has a cathedral town, clerical setting, that recalls the short tale "The Woman in Wood" (1928).

In addition to the cathedral, the novel visits ruined castles, including one left over from Roman times. This gives a Historic Britain aspect to its settings.

The police in The Bishop's Crime trace characters through local, small town institutions, such as that old-fashioned business, a "cook shop" (Chapter 6). A "cook shop" is treated as a kind of business that is nearly extinct in 1940 Britain. I had never heard of cook shops before. Oddly, a "cook shop" turns out to be essentially what modern-day people call a "takeout", a place where customers can buy cooked meals to take home with them. Such places are everywhere in today's USA, and seem quite "modern"!

Despite being published during World War II, the war is not mentioned.

Social Commentary. SPOILERS. The Bishop is trying to sell some rare books belonging to the local church, to finance "social schemes" designed to aid the poor (Chapter 4). The Bishop is clearly a liberal social crusader; the local churchmen who oppose his schemes are likely conservatives. Bailey stays rather neutral on this subject. But he is far more sympathetic than Margery Allingham, who poured rotten right-wing ridicule on a man of the cloth who wanted to open a medical clinic for the poor in "The Case of the Late Pig" (1937).

SPOILERS. Despite the title The Bishop's Crime, and the way that the Bishop and the Dean are leading suspects throughout the novel, it turns out at the end that these clergymen are completely innocent and not involved. Nor are church disputes: the crime ultimately has nothing to do with the church or religion. This oddly recalls some American "political" mysteries of the era, which despite casts of politicians serving as suspects and Washington backgrounds, have solutions that have nothing to do with politics. These novels "tease" readers with suggestions of skulduggery in major institutions (the Anglican Church, the US Government), only to fasten the crimes on outsiders, at the end. In the case of The Bishop's Crime, this is probably not that big a deal. I have no particular desire to read a novel about a Bishop or Dean who murders folks in the churchyard! And regard the idea of an Anglican Bishop in 1940 as a killer as the height of improbability. Still, The Bishop's Crime constantly hints at outcomes it doesn't deliver.

Detective Work. The opening chapters are written in Bailey's lively style, and have some interesting detective work, reconstructing a crime (Chapters 2, 3, 4, 6). This includes some good forensic deductions by Mr. Fortune based on his study of the corpse.

The opening of The Bishop's Crime shares approaches with such Mr. Fortune short stories as "The Yellow Diamonds" (1933) and "The Yellow Cloth" (1938). These works emphasize detection based on deductions from evidence. They all have Mr. Fortune finding clues, that enable him to trace down criminals in remote cities or locations, far from the original setting of the story. This detective work is ingenious and admirable.

SPOILERS. The tracking down of a crime locale through unique local food eaten by a victim recalls "The Broken Toad" (1934). Earlier in "The Wedding-Ring" (1930), the origin city of suspects is found through food too. However, this food is a box of pastry thrown in the garbage, rather than food eaten by a victim. In both "The Wedding-Ring" and "The Broken Toad", the food is a sweet pastry. See also "The Long Dinner", where a locale is traced through food on a menu that has been found as a clue. And in "The Torn Stocking" a locale is discovered when Reggie unearths a bag from a grocery store there.

Landscape and Trailing. A good mid-section has the police and Reggie staking out and trailing suspects (Chapters 23-25). This shows Bailey's gift for descriptions of rural England. Areas visited include wetlands. Trailing suspects is also an integral component of detective fiction, and it is pleasantly done here. Reggie and a policeman trail suspects through the Italian countryside in "The Hole in the Parchment": this is a kind of sequence Bailey liked.

This section includes a crime. Implicitly, it also includes the makings of an alibi puzzle, involving this crime. This puzzle is explicitly set forth and solved later in the novel (Chapters 39, 40). This alibi puzzle is not quite "fair": I don't think all the information needed to solve the puzzle is fully shared with the reader in advance of the solution. But the puzzle is fun to think about. SPOILER. It is closely tied to the landscape.

Main Mystery Plot. Aside from the two main "detective work" and "trailing" sections discussed above, The Bishop's Crime slides into needless and confusing plot complications, and is uninteresting. The main mystery plot, about who committed the crime and why, is uninspired.

Mystery Plot: The MacGuffin. SPOILERS. The subplot about the MacGuffin seems modeled on the one in "The Violet Farm", although all the specific details are new and different. The subplot in The Bishop's Crime is more elaborate and detailed than the one in "The Violet Farm" - but less dramatic and enjoyable. Both:

A related tale involving a hidden treasure, and a clue from a famous poet in his original language: "The German Song". The song is by Goethe.

No Murder / The Apprehensive Dog

Bailey's next Mr. Fortune novel is known as No Murder (1942) in Britain and The Apprehensive Dog in the United States. It has six mysterious violent events. Much of the novel can feel like a series of short stories, each one setting forth the details of one mysterious event.

An Uneven Book. No Murder is an uneven work, with both good and bad sections. It has some well-done passages. These tend to involve mystery-laden plot events, and be set in well-described country landscapes:

These good parts make up around one-third of the novel.

But surrounding these good passages is a grim, pointless tale. The rest of the book is mainly a study in a rich dysfunctional family and their sordid relationships. Perhaps my prejudices are showing. I have never liked reading about dysfunctional people. I much prefer good guys full of accomplishment.

No Murder is completely lacking in the lively subjects found in other Bailey works, such as art, archeology, literature, politics, religion, science or travel. And aside from Mr. Fortune's initial investigations of the first and fourth of the book's long series of violent mysteries, there is surprisingly little detective work of any substance.

No Murder shows the negative cluck-clucking about sex that is also a feature of The Wrong Man (1945). Both books are condemnatory of characters' affairs. I didn't find this appealing in either work.

Reggie as Amateur Sleuth. Scotland Yard never gets called into this case. This is implausible. Considering all the violent events, maybe the British Prime Minister should have put the whole county under martial law! This leaves Reggie wandering about on his own. He essentially functions in No Murder as an amateur detective. I find this approach less interesting than his short stories, where he regularly has the collaboration of Scotland Yard. All of this limits Reggie's capabilities, and makes the detective work more restricted.

Youth: A Positive Feature. No Murder starts out promisingly, with a portrait of a likable pair of teenage lovers, Molly Caplar and Bernard "Bony" Frere. They are most prominent in several early sections (Chapters 1, 2, last part of 3, first half of 4, 6, 8, 10, second half of 14, 21, 36). Unfortunately, they tend to disappear in later sections of the novel. The pair are surprisingly intellectual and intelligent. They are also characterized by elaborate dialogue.

The sections with the young people are enhanced by their frequent outdoor settings. These show Bailey's gift for nature writing. Bailey includes the "outdoor activities" the British of the era loved: walking, boating, fishing. These give reasons why his characters are visiting these landscapes. Some of these sections also advance the mystery plot.

The sections with the young people, with their characterization, dialogue, mystery plotting and nature writing, are the best reasons to read No Murder, along with some of Mr. Fortune's investigations.

I wonder, completely without actual evidence, if the teen characters in No Murder were an attempt to appeal to the "youth market". Did Bailey's editors tell him that young people were readers of mysteries, and urge him to include some characters with whom young readers could identify? This is pure speculation. Mr. Fortune's entrance in the novel emphasizes how youthful he is (start of Chapter 4). This too could be an attempt to help young readers identify with Fortune.

The young couple recall the pair of college students in "The Sported Oak". They are a bit younger than the established university students in "The Sported Oak", and a bit less self-assured.

Feminism: A Positive Feature. Also a plus in the book's good sections: achievements of several woman characters. SPOILERS. Women characters perform brilliantly, in helping injured people in the second and fourth mysteries (Chapters 10, 22). Discussions highlight this (Chapters 14, 21, 27). This is an unexpected promotion of feminist perspectives.

The actions of these women is surprising - in part because nothing we have learned about them before prepares us for their skill. No Murder intends for their competence to be a surprise. It is a pleasant surprise - but a surprise all the same.

Mrs. Weston's insistence also is competent and surprising, in the fifth mystery (Chapter 37). It is not as extreme as the abilities women show in the second and fourth mysteries. But it still saves a life. Her daughter Rosalind comes through too.

Gender: Contradictory Ideas. Reggie disapproves of the married highbrow novelists. He especially dislikes their androgyny, the way they seem unisex and lacking in pronounced gender features (middle of Chapter 5, middle of Chapter 14). This is offensive: people have a right to be themselves, and have their own personal approach to gender.

By contrast, the heroine admires Charles Ambury for being a "he-man" (last part of Chapter 8).

No Murder does not carry this critique too far, thankfully. The highbrow couple is completely harmless, while Charles Ambury is a suspect and perhaps has a dark side.

However, there are important parts of No Murder that contradict the above ideas. SPOILERS. The relentless way that everyone who meets Charles Ambury seems to like him, stressed throughout the novel, eventually comes across as something the novel wants to criticize and "deconstruct".

And heroine Molly makes a key statement, asserting the sexes are the same: "It's all rot about females and males being different" (Chapter 21). Unfortunately, the follow-up discussion is vague - we only get unclear hints about what is said next. Still, this is a key moment in Bailey.

Anti-Intellectualism & Food. No Murder makes anti-intellectual (start of Chapter 14) and anti-highbrow (middle of Chapter 14) remarks, something I always loathe.

Reggie defends the British common man's supposed favorite foods, roast beef and apple tart, against the fancy food popular with intellectuals (start of Chapter 13). Unfortunately, recommending beef and sugar-filled deserts is some of the worst nutritional advice of all time!

Links to Bailey. No Murder has features in common with Bailey's Garstons: adult brothers, isolated country estate, drowning.

Links to "The Little Dog": a dog around crime scenes, family conflicts in a rich family, a patriarchal family head, drowning.

Links to The Wrong Man: a country inn and the woman who runs it, a woman's body found in the woods.

Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig

Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig (1943) mixes mystery with a hunt for war-time Nazi saboteurs. The book is a wild farrago, and none too successful. It is loaded with political comments that are unfortunately not reasoned in-depth or well-documented. Many of these seem inaccurate or wrong, and some are offensive. Its first half is readable, but not good enough to recommend.

Once again, we have a Bailey novel that is episodic, and which seems like a series of short stories strung together.

Politics. Shadow on the Wall was a satirical look at successful mainstream politicians. Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig also takes a satiric, often condemnatory look at political figures: this time, political radicals. These radicals are far more marginalized and unsuccessful than the politicos in Shadow on the Wall. The radicals in Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig are mainly crackpots, whose influence hardly extends beyond local meetings they call, and items in marginal newspapers.

Mr. Fortune suspects these radicals might be the secret Nazi saboteurs that are causing so much damage. He makes what seem to me to be dubious, historically doubtful claims that certain groups tended to include Nazi spies. Among the radical beliefs marked in Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig as possible indicators of Nazi agents, we find pacifism, 19th Century Liberalism, old-style Radicals, and even members of a pagan religious cult that has survived in remote rural regions of Wales. The novel also goes after Englishmen of German descent, the wealthy, upper crust members of "old families", and men the book calls "sissies": who might or might not be gay men. Communists are also treated as suspicious, on the grounds their ideas might have been adopted as a mask to hide secret Naziism. What we don't find in Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig is any mention of the radical right, or of its supporters who joined British Fascist movements before World War II. I confess I find all this wrong-headed. British Fascist sympathizers seem to me to be far more likely to be Nazi spies, than were left-wing radicals, reds or gay people. SPOILER. Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig backtracks on some of its target groups at the end: the book endorses a British communist woman as a decent Briton, the kind that will help win the war! The sissy turns out to be harmless too. All in all, the politics of Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig is so weird, scattershot and internally inconsistent that one finds it hard to take seriously.

Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig depicts Nazi anti-Semitic groups, and paints a harsh, condemnatory picture of their ugly actions (Chapter 23). This is good. Unfortunately, the book also suggests that such attitudes were caused when a Jewish refugee gets promoted over a gentile at a university. The book speculates that this promotion in fact created anti-Semitism where it didn't exist before: a dubious assertion. This comes dangerously close to "blaming the victim".

Landscape. The reservoir created by a bombing crater is a unique wartime landscape feature (Chapter 13). It reminds one a bit of "The Holy Well".

One of the best parts of Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig is the description of the Welsh setting (Chapter 4 to start of Chapter 7). This section shows the Golden Age interest in landscape. The barren upper mountain areas are contrasted with the lush regions lower down. These seem like two worlds. They recall a little bit the two types of soil in Black Land, White Land. R.A.J. Walling makes a similar upland-lowland contrast in his Cornwall mountain landscapes in Prove It, Mr. Tolefree! (1933).

The castle in the remote countryside, recalls The Red Castle.

Mystery Plot. The landscape section (Chapter 4 to start of Chapter 7) contains two small but nicely done mystery subplots (SPOILERS):

As Rosen points out (start of Chapter 17) Mr. Fortune's reasoning skills include a firm mental picture memory of Cadfan, and an ability to analyze this at a much later date. This combination of the visual, a grasp of its geometric structure, and analytic skills, leads him to deductions not possible otherwise (Chapters 16, 17). This is an unusual in-depth look at cognitive psychology.

Saving a Rope

Saving a Rope (1948) is the last novel about Mr. Fortune. It is not written as any sort of farewell to the character. It is "just" another novel in the series.

The English mountain setting recalls Bailey's interest in the Alps in earlier tales: "The Hazel Ice", "The Mountain Meadow", Shadow on the Wall. And Welsh mountains in Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig.

The missing woman has clothes in many "light and bright" colors (Chapter 10). A piece of "apricot silk" forms a clue. These are examples of Bailey's interest in color imagery.

Plans are underway to convert local lakes into power sources (Chapters 2, 11). Please see my list of mystery tales about Energy, Oil, Power and Physics.

Joshua Clunk Novels


Garstons (1930) (originally published in the US as The Garston Murder Case) is the first Joshua Clunk novel. Garstons is a highly readable book. It deserves credit for creating Joshua Clunk. And it provides a steady flow of plot. But it lacks the rich creativity of Bailey's best Mr. Fortune tales.

Joshua Clunk. The tales starring Mr. Fortune are not Bailey's only detective works. He also wrote a series of novels about crooked lawyer Joshua Clunk, who does detective work on the side.

Clunk has a predecessor as a lawyer who uses his skill to aid criminals: see The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason (1896) by Melville Davisson Post. However Randolph Mason uses flaws in the law and the legal code, while Clunk focusses on gaps in specific cases against crooks, areas where police claims are weak or unproven.

Mystery Plot. The solution of Garstons hangs on a single twist. Otherwise, there is not much ingenuity, excerpt for the "intellectual property" subplot. This is a fairly simple plot for a 300 page novel.

BIG SPOILERS. The solution depends on Superintendent Bell having badly botched his initial investigation of the Alfred Garston case. This lacks plausibility. I wondered when reading about the case, about what turns out to be part of the actual solution. But thought immediately "no, the police would have investigated this and eliminated it as a possibility." All of this makes the solution pretty unfair.

BIG SPOILERS. Bailey will later use a variation of this solution in the Clunk novel The Wrong Man. It is combined with other ideas there.

Theft of Intellectual Property. Garstons begins with the hero investigating whether a corporation stole his father's new steel process. Garstons is not the first mystery to examine intellectual property theft. See for example J. S. Fletcher's "The Yorkshire Manufacturer" in Paul Campenhaye, Criminologist (collected 1918) and "Patent No. 33" in The Secret of the Barbican (collected 1925).

The mystery of whether the process was stolen or not, is treated with some ingenuity. BIG SPOILERS. The novel starts out with the two apparent solutions: 1) The corporation stole the process; 2) It's all just a coincidence. Neither of these possible solutions seems probable or deeply plausible, as the book points out. (See Chapters 1, 3). But Bailey's solution at the end shows that there are possibilities in between these two extremes, which are indeed plausible.

Nature. There are some good descriptions of outdoor scenery: the grounds of the Abbey (first part of Chapter 4, first part of Chapter 9), the shore road (middle of Chapter 17). These areas are wetlands, and anticipate wetland landscapes in The Bishop's Crime.

The Abbey floor plan is rectilinear, while the shore road is curved.

Both Garstons and Bailey's "The Lion Fish" (1927) are set in ocean-side areas, and have features in common:

Right of Way. There is a traditional legal right for ferry boats to land by the Abbey jetty (first part of Chapter 9). Later mysteries will deal with public "right of ways". These later mysteries deal with paths or roads, rather than waterways as in Garstons:

The Red Castle

The Red Castle (1932) (known in the US as The Red Castle Mystery) is the second Joshua Clunk novel.

Plot Problems. The Red Castle is well written but badly plotted. Although published at the height of the Golden Age, the book does not all adhere to Golden Age standards of mystery construction. It is not "fair play": one does not see how any reader could deduce the solution to the case from the evidence in the story. Nor is the crime brought home to one person, but rather to a diffuse conspiracy. Some of the crooks involved do not even make an appearance till the finale of the story! The behavior and motivations of the tutor in the story are completely inconsistent, and the whole burglary subplot in the book makes little logical sense. Anyone expecting a clever, Agatha Christie style solution at the end of this book is going to be horribly disappointed.

Detectives: Working Class. All of this said, much of the book is enjoyable reading. This is partly due to the well characterized detectives in the book, Joshua Clunk, and his likable young assistant Victor Hopley. Hopley is distinctly of working class origins, and his go-getting spirit, and romance with a pretty, smart and observant young maid at the castle have plenty of appeal. They seem designed as a rebuke to much of the snobbery of 1930's Britain, and of the British detective story of the era.

For that matter, Clunk himself is distinctly non-U. He must have considerable education to be a solicitor, but he never seems to display any upper class traits. His status as a lawyer for criminals trying to beat the system in part seems to be a sort of class conflict with the forces of social authority, played by the police. Clunk's enthusiasm for revivalist preaching, and his endowment of what seems to be a slum chapel, also mark him as an adherent to the religious practices of the poorest classes of Englishmen. Clunk's friends and clients all seem to be of the very small businessman and shopkeeper variety: tradesmen. In The Red Castle he makes friends with a lady running a tiny country inn, Miss Telfer, whose country cooking is one of the more entertaining features of the book.

Description. The Red Castle shows plenty of North Country local color. The descriptions of the moors are well written. So are the evocations of Roman ruins, and of the remains of the Roman cult of Mithras worship, which permeates the novel. An interest in Mithras will return in A Change of Heart (1973) by Helen McCloy.

Bailey shows a Chesterton-like gift for descriptions of the weather, especially in how it affects light and visibility. Unlike many thriller writers, Bailey is much more oriented to daytime scenes than night ones. The sheer visibility afforded by daytime allows Bailey to extend the visual imagery that is so important to him. Also, Bailey likes an atmosphere of the everyday for his most chilling scenes, and this happens more often in the day than in the dark. At night, his characters simply go to bed, reserving the next day for more adventures.

Bailey often creates clues to his characters' personalities:

Clunk's Claimant / The Twittering Bird Mystery

Clunk's Claimant (1937) (originally published in the US as The Twittering Bird Mystery) is the fourth Joshua Clunk novel. It is mainly inoffensive, but lacking in creativity or interest, after a not-bad opening (Chapters 1, 2).

Setting. There is some decent landscape and cityscape description early on (Chapters 1, 2). This shows the fictitious London suburb Totsbury that is the novel's setting. Bailey had an affinity for suburbs, and they appear in several works. See "Zodiacs", "The Fairy Cycle".

There is also a bit of the Thames (end of Chapter 2). Its description includes some of Bailey's beloved flowering plants. And these plants involve another Bailey favorite, bright color imagery.

Bailey liked wetlands, and they appear in several works. But this scene is less about a wetland, strictly speaking, and more about the Thames river itself.

Plot. There is supposed to be a Big Plot Surprise (Chapter 14), but I could see it coming a mile off. SPOILERS. Somewhat similar situations offer motives for crimes in some Bailey short stories. Please see the discussion of "The Greek Play" and "The Holy Well".

Nasty Characters. Joshua Clunk is always an ambiguous figure. But in a book like Garstons he is an appealing, interesting person. By contrast in Clunk's Claimant he is repulsive. He also doesn't do much: largely just sit around his office.

Clunk's best scene has him showing a more human side (end of Chapter 29).

The main suspects, the members of the rotten wealthy Lade family, are both unpleasant and uninteresting. Nor are such non-family suspects as Merlin or Captain Cyril Okes much better.

Henri. By contrast handsome young Frenchman Henri Simon is a sympathetic character. Henri is more working class and thus less "sophisticated" than French lovers often are in old English language tales. Henri is also a figure of much-needed humor, with his zestful remarks. The scene where he first flirts with the heroine is charming (Chapter 21). The book emphasizes Henri's physical vitality. He is first described as "erect and alert" (Chapter 17).

The Annoying Psychic. I don't believe in psychic powers, and find their inclusion in mysteries to be an affront to the genre. Mystery fiction is supposed to be based on human reason: psychics violate this principle. So I don't like having a psychic in Clunk's Claimant.

Clunk's Claimant includes a cliche: the phony psychic who suddenly has an authentic psychic vision (Chapter 11). I don't know who invented this cliche. This 1937 novel might be an early version.

Universe. The Clunk books take place in the same "universe" as the Mr. Fortune ones. (The idea of shared fictional universes was well-understood in the 1930's - but I don't think the word "universe" was used yet.) Clunk's Claimant shares Scotland Yard police detectives with the Fortune books:

Mr. Fortune himself puts in a cameo appearance (Chapter 44). Earlier, the police get a medical opinion from an off-stage Fortune (first part of Chapter 19). Both of these appearances concentrate on Mr. Fortune's official role as forensic consultant to Scotland Yard. He does not do any of the non-forensic detective work that is featured in the Mr. Fortune stories.

Dead Man's Shoes / Nobody's Vineyard

Bailey's seventh Joshua Clunk novel is known as Dead Man's Shoes (1942) in Britain and Nobody's Vineyard in the United States. I think the American title Nobody's Vineyard is more poetic and interesting, and will call the book Nobody's Vineyard here. The original American book jacket of Nobody's Vineyard has a good illustration of the landscape that is the story's setting.

Victor Hopley, an employee of Clunk, plays a major role as a detective character. Hopley's wife Polly also appears extensively. Hopley previously appeared in the Clunk novel The Red Castle.

Unlike some Clunk books, there are few (maybe none) crossover characters from the Mr. Fortune tales in Nobody's Vineyard.

World War II is not mentioned at all, nor is the Army - and plenty of young man characters are civilians. One suspects Nobody's Vineyard takes place before the war started in 1939, although this is not stated explicitly. Nobody's Vineyard does not discuss contemporary politics, either.

Detection. Some of the best sections of Nobody's Vineyard discuss the crimes and their investigations. These sections also often discuss the interesting landscapes, cityscapes and seascapes of the town. These include Chapters 1-5, 8, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 29-31, 34-36. Detective work that should be highlighted:

Bailey Traditions. Nobody's Vineyard resembles in broad terms the Mr Fortune novel Black Land, White Land. Both:

The Sullen Sky Mystery has features that anticipate Nobody's Vineyard: Not a Cozy. Although set in a small English town, Nobody's Vineyard does not have a "cozy" feel. The town suffers from corruption. And is seen "realistically" as a place of business. The inhabitants are not "cute", and the town's infrastructure is not seen as "quaint" - unlike many cozies. The town is set in beautiful landscapes - Bailey always loves the countryside - but the town is not otherwise idealized.

Fire. A John Rhode mystery novel is known as Death in the Hop Fields (1937) in Britain and The Harvest Murder in the US. It contains a well-done subplot mystery about a fire (Chapters 7-9). It can be compared the fire-mystery section of Nobody's Vineyard (Chapters 29-31).

The Young Lovers. Like countless Golden Age mysteries, Nobody's Vineyard has a subplot about the romance of a pair of Young Lovers:

Neither Randolph nor Alex is a murder suspect. The reader is not meant to suspect at all that they might be guilty of the crimes.

Prose Style. Bailey is a major prose stylist. In Nobody's Vineyard, the sections written from the Point of View of either reporter Randolph or detective Hopley are written in a rich, complex prose style, representing these men's thoughts and comments. This is a positive feature of the novel.

This prose style in Nobody's Vineyard is slangy, jazzy, and emphatically "modern". It is quite different from the traditional, "literary" prose style often found in the Mr. Fortune books - which is also good, but different.

Randolph is writing a novel. It is described as a "jazz tragedy" (end of Chapter 28). This memorable phrase can also describe the prose style of much of Nobody's Vineyard.

The Wrong Man

The Mr. Fortune novel, Black Land, White Land, fails to follow through in its solution, on its many intimations of police corruption. The same cannot be said of the Joshua Clunk novel, The Wrong Man (1945), which is made of much sterner stuff in this regard. The solution of this book is full of corrupt police activity, in a way that should also be present in the earlier book.

But The Wrong Man has problems of its own, that sink it as a novel. Its highly complex plot is so tangled that it never quite turns into an organized, fair play puzzle. And the book is homophobic, something not at all present in Bailey's 1920's work.

American Hero. On a more positive note, Bailey's hero is an American officer who is stationed in Britain. Like Cyril Hare, Bailey clearly admired the Americans who had come to Britain to fight World War II. Bailey had previously had an American intelligence officer in Britain work with his other series detective in Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig (1943).

Setting. The setting is fairly interesting, and could have been the sound basis of a novel far better than The Wrong Man. It has a country inn, and down the road, a bank that has been evacuated from wartime London into a converted English Country House. The nature areas and woodland paths connecting the two buildings are also pleasant.

The contrast between a country inn and a modern business (like the bank) in a converted house recalls The Conquerer Inn (1943) by E.R. Punshon. (The "modern business in a converted home" in The Conquerer Inn involves what the British call lorries: trucking in the U.S.) Both novels are set in remote country areas.

Margery Allingham

Nicholas Fuller's survey article with many links to his reviews is at The Grandest Game in the World.

Allingham and Bailey

Margery Allingham's work shows some affinities to the Bailey school: Allingham also shared some formal traits with Bailey. There is a tendency for small trivial clues to lead to wider scopes of problems. Allingham's short fiction is structurally like Bailey's, in that small incidents lead to the discovery of criminal conspiracies. However, the tone is usually much more light hearted. Allingham's small incidents tend to be personal problems or small mysteries experienced by young lovers. These small mysteries gradually lead to Campion discovering real crimes. These crimes are usually criminal enterprises of Rogues, such as jewel theft or smuggling, not the monstrous conspiracies in Bailey.

Her detective Mr. Campion is a genius with unofficial ties to Scotland Yard. While Mr. Campion is not a medical doctor like Mr. Fortune, he does have Fortune's upper class social standing. Both Fortune and Campion are often the protectors of young lovers. Frauds and swindles are common in upper class society in both writers. This may just be a convenient plot generator, but it is a persistent motif in Allingham, far more than in Christie or Marsh. There is a lot of fraud in Bailey. Nice young people often suffer unjust persecution in both authors, often being framed for something they didn't do.

Campion's chauffeur, Lugg, sometimes splits detective duties with Campion, just like Mr. Fortune's chauffeur Sam, with Lugg or Sam researching the lower classes in a town while the detective sleuths among the upper. (Sayers' Bunter does this too.)

In both the Bailey and Allingham stories, there is a great deal of emphasis on exploring upper class life, especially its cultural side. Allingham was more systematic about this than Bailey, but there are distinct similarities - see Bailey's "The Violet Farm" or "The Greek Play", for example.

Both Bailey and Allingham showed a certain degree of disdain for the formal puzzle plot story popular in the Golden Age; once again, Allingham pushed this tendency to extremes, but the seeds are present in Bailey. Campion's investigations seem painfully unsystematic; they instead involve exploring more or less at random all aspects of a case.

Allingham and William Le Queux

Allingham's fiction also bears a family resemblance to the pre World War I spy stories of William Le Queux:

Allingham's Logical Satires on Detective Fiction

Allingham is well known for some short tales that ingeniously burlesque detective story conventions, such as "The Border-Line Case" (1936), "The Snapdragon and the C.I.D." (1961), and "The Villa Marie Celeste" (1960). These have no parallel in the Bailey school, as far as I know, but do run parallel to such Sayers spoofs as "The Milk Bottles" and "Scrawns". Allingham's works are not Mad Magazine or Carol Burnett style parodies; rather they are apparently solemn mystery tales whose unexpected solutions puncture holes in some detective tale conventions. Later, Borges' "Death and The Compass" (1944) and Carr's The Curse of the Bronze Lamp (1945), will have something of the same effect: logical satires on the formal detective tale. Allingham apparently got into the satire business first, according to the dates of these tales, although G.K.Chesterton's "The White Pillar Murders" (1925) and Arnold Bennett's "Murder!" (1926) are even earlier "logical takeoffs" on the genre. Loel Yeo's "Inquest" (1932), the sole detective story of an apparently pseudonymous writer, also is an assault on a detective story convention, this time The Will. (Allingham included a character called Superintendent Yeo in her "Tall Story".)

Allingham's satires, like those of the other authors mentioned here, are targeted at the formal detective story, whereas Sayers' tales are takeoffs on the conventions of thriller fiction. Most of the mystery writers mentioned were noted for their logic; it is not surprising that they would discover some logical "holes" in detective story technique. Paradoxically, Allingham's satires on the formal detective tale are among her most ingeniously plotted puzzle stories. When she wrote straightforward detective fiction, (which was most of the time - these satires are only a small fraction of her work) she was usually far less interested in the puzzle plot format.

"The Snapdragon and the C.I.D." intercuts Allingham's satire with a moving nostalgia and evocation of the passage of time.

"The Border-Line Case" has a clever puzzle plot. It bears some similarity to a non-satire story, "On Christmas Day in the Morning" (1952). Both deal with mysterious crimes, in which the geography of the crime scene is all important. Both tales have different solutions - Allingham is coming up with different solutions to the same kind of mystery problem.

Allingham's radio play Room to Let (1947) also has "logical satire" aspects in its solution. BIG SPOILERS. The solution of its locked-room puzzle is related to the solution of "The Border-Line Case" - although it is not as clever or unexpected.

Allingham's Short Stories: Mr. Campion and Others

Mr. Campion and Others is Allingham's most important collection. It exists in two versions, a hardback from 1939, which mixes Campion and non-Campion tales, and a later, all Campion paperback. I much prefer the all Campion version. All of these Campion stories were published in The Strand magazine in 1936 - 1940. Even the more minor tales in the collection, such as "The Widow" (1937), "The Danger Point" (1937), "The Frenchman's Gloves" (1938) and "The White Elephant" (1936), have their charms, and the collection should probably be read as a whole. Although unfortunately not included in Mr. Campion and Others, such fine Campion Christmas stories as "The Case is Altered" (1938) and "The Man with the Sack" (1936) also belong to this series of Strand tales. They are included in other Allingham collections.

The order in which the tales were originally published: "The White Elephant" (1936), "The Case of the Old Man in the Window" (1936), "The Man with the Sack" (1936), "The Widow" (1937), "The Danger Point" (1937), "The Definite Article" (1937), "The Question Mark" (1938), "The Name on the Wrapper" (1938), "The Frenchman's Gloves" (1938), "The Longer View" (1938), "The Hat Trick" (1938), "The Case is Altered" (1938), "The Meaning of the Act" (1939), "Safe As Houses" (1940) and "A Matter of Form" (1940). This last story appeared in the May 1940 issue of The Strand; one sees that it was probably written not too long after war broke out in September 1939. The series, and the happy, comic English life it describes, did not long survive the horrors of World War II.

Among Allingham's puzzle plot stories, "The Hat Trick" (1938) and "The Case of the Old Man in the Window" (1936) shows a similar plot complexity to her "logical" tales, and are especially appealing. In both tales, apparently magical situations occur, to which Campion eventually finds logical explanations. These are not quite impossible crimes in the Chesterton-Carr tradition; instead the events seem magical, an eruption of magic or the supernatural into daily life. Such "magic explained" is also an element in "The Villa Marie Celeste" (1960) and "Safe As Houses" (1940).

Also outstanding as a pure mystery is "The Meaning of the Act" (1939). This tale, like many of Allingham's 1930's and 40's tales, incorporates elements of the Rogue tradition. Crooks in these stories tend to have a clever, ingenious scheme; unraveling this scheme forms an important element of the puzzle plot.

Allingham's Campion short stories show real story telling polish. Like Ellery Queen's short stories of the period, they are fully worked up pieces including plot, detection, characters, social atmosphere. One feels that both Queen and Allingham had standards, and they did not release a piece till it reached the full measure of what a short story should be.

Allingham's tales have a recurring set of comic characters:

Allingham's Themes

A persistent motif in Allingham's work is resurrection. She is particularly interested in characters who seemingly come back from the dead: see "The Case of the Late Pig". Or who do schemes, like the artist in Death of a Ghost, which give them a certain "immortality" after death.

Another common Allingham motif is The Danger of Going Out To Eat and Drink. Scenes in restaurants always lead to some sort of major disaster or threat to her characters, often the start of a major suspense sequence. See the finale of Death of a Ghost, or "The Hat Trick".

Other common Allingham attitudes:

Wanted: Someone Innocent

"Wanted: Someone Innocent" (1946) is the first of two long, non-series novellas in the book known as Take Two at Bedtime in Britain and Deadly Duo in the USA. Both novellas are non-series tales, giving Allingham a chance to experiment with new characters.

"Wanted: Someone Innocent" is a delightful suspense tale. It brings a nice but naive young woman into a sinister house, and soon she is up to her neck in suspense, intrigue, mystery and eventually a little genteel danger. The story is full of corny elements, but somehow this does not destroy their storytelling appeal. Maybe they enhance it. Similarly, the reader can often guess what is going to happen next. This should destroy the story - but somehow, it just seems to make it more enjoyable. Even the newest mystery readers will be much less naive than this heroine, who is so kind hearted and positive that she never suspects even the most obvious problems that will occur.

"Wanted: Someone Innocent" has detailed, sympathetic portraits of the servants in the mansion. And it opens with the heroine's kindly Cockney landlady in London, before the heroine moves into the mansion. These are instances of the sympathetic working class characters in Allingham.

The premise of "Wanted: Someone Innocent", a naive, decent and penniless young woman maneuvered into taking a job at a sinister mansion by a domineering old school friend, was anticipated by H.C. Bailey's Garstons (1930).

Last Act

"Last Act" is the second of two long, non-series novellas in the book known as Take Two at Bedtime in Britain and Deadly Duo in the USA. "Last Act" is a more serious tale than "Wanted: Someone Innocent", but not as enjoyable.

"Last Act" has story elements that recall Flowers for the Judge:

The best part of "Last Act" is the opening chapter, which sets forth the colorful female characters, the spectacular house where they live, and the family history. This chapter shows Allingham's powers of invention and description. After this, the story becomes blander. It also darkens in tone. Basically, it is a cruel and unpleasant tale, despite the color that surrounds it.

The family in "Last Act" is involved in the theater. This is positively portrayed, unlike their real estate holdings. The theater and its rich traditions gives this family a separate "culture", like other Allingham extended families.

Denis is an attempt to create a young man who is more resourceful and accomplished that the more typical upper class eligible young men who often flit through Allingham tales.

The Patient at Peacocks Hall

"The Patient at Peacocks Hall" is the first of two long, non-series novellas in No Love Lost (in book form in 1954).

"The Patient at Peacocks Hall" (1951) mixes romance, medical drama and a bit of suspense. In some ways, it is more of a romantic or medical drama, than it is a thriller. While hardly ground-breaking, it makes for entertaining reading. The detail with which Allingham has imagined everything helps. The characters are well-developed too.

There is mystery of sorts in the first half of "The Patient at Peacocks Hall". Odd events are happening, and neither the reader nor the heroine knows their cause or what lies behind them. However, neither the heroine nor anyone does any detective work to unravel the mystery. Instead, the underlying events are gradually revealed by the story. This story structure is fairly common in thrillers.

Allingham moves into Josephine Bell territory, by having her heroine be a fully qualified medical doctor. The heroine is refreshingly competent and practical. The male hero is also a doctor. He follows romance fiction traditions by being noble, good at his work, and a complete idiot when it comes to romance and personal relationships.

"The Patient at Peacocks Hall" criticizes socialized medicine in Britain - at that time a fairly new phenomenon. It depicts a noble doctor, in the allegedly glorious days before socialized care, who used to give free medical care to the poor, subsidized by fees he charged rich patients. Is this really an accurate, typical account of the medical care the poor received in pre-1945 Britain? Or was medical care for the working class actually hard to obtain?

Safer Than Love

"Safer Than Love" is the second of two long, non-series novellas in No Love Lost (in book form in 1954).

"Safer Than Love" deals with a woman, scared of romance, who has instead entered into what she hopes will be a "safe" but loveless marriage. It is a grim, joyless story.

SPOILER. The opening chapter of "Safer Than Love" builds up a nightmarish portrait of the marriage. The husband has no interest in his wife, spends almost no time with her, and even spends his vacations with other men. Worse, he married her to silence some unnamed "scandal". The scandal is not revealed, until the end of the book. In 1954, most readers would instantly think of gayness, and that the husband has entered into a sham marriage to protect himself from charges of being gay. "Safer Than Love" does everything to suggest or imply such an interpretation.

However at the tale's end, the scandal is revealed to be the husband's affair before his marriage with another woman. This makes no sense in terms of the plot - a single man having a fling with a single woman would not really be a "scandal", and this man has never had any visible interest in women. But it wraps up the plot in a way that will evade the censor and social controversy.

"Safer Than Love" resembles Robert Anderson's play Tea and Sympathy (1953), a famous work in its era. In both works:

I don't know when "Safer Than Love" was written or first published. But one suspects it is Allingham's attempt to do her own version of the material in Tea and Sympathy.

"Safer Than Love" is pretty grim stuff. It lacks entertainment value. It offers no insight into gay life per se: the husband and any of his male friends never appear on-stage in the story. The misery of the wife's situation is made apparent, but the tale has little else to say.

The Family Stories: Police at the Funeral and others

Police at the Funeral (1931) and "One Morning They'll Hang Him" (1950) are both in the same genre of Allingham stories. Both deal with a large house, filled with an extended family, and dominated by an elderly woman. Both houses are full of elaborately described furniture, mainly wooden, antique and valuable. There is a quality of concreteness to everything Allingham has visualized, at once lively and unpretentious. The house itself tends to become a character in these stories. The mail and letters play a role in both works. Both works are genuine, puzzle plot detective stories, of a kind Allingham did not always write. "One Morning They'll Hang Him" is a pretty good detective story, while Police at the Funeral is marred by its ugly racial stereotypes.

Another short story in the same mode is "Safe As Houses" (1940). Here the eccentric family is presented as Campion's own. The old lady in the tale is just as concerned with her furniture, being horrified by a ring on a table again. And once again, letter writing plays a role in the tale. Campion's comically whiny Cousin Monmouth in the story is similar to Uncle William in Police, Uncle William being one of Allingham's richest creations.

Allingham's characters tend to be members of families. They rarely stand on their own, or are unattached people with romantic relationships, but no blood ties. Sometimes they are young men from "the best families", like Campion himself, and many of Allingham's romantic leads. Other times, they are members of middle class families.

One thinks of the unhappy family in Police at the Funeral, and the Fittons in Sweet Danger. While the Fittons are as happy and nice as the family in Police at the Funeral are warped, both families actually resemble each other a lot. Both families are eccentric. Both have money trouble. Both seem to stick very close to the large home where they all live together, and seem to have little interests beyond this house. None seem to have jobs that take them outside the home. Both families contain a large number of siblings, and an older woman who serves as matriarch. Both families have an ancient home, both have a lot of old furniture, both are keeping up traditions of the past that have nearly died out elsewhere. In both cases, being a member of this family marks one as a special person, sharing in traditions and attitudes that completely cut one off from the outside world. Both families virtually have a "culture" in the anthropological sense, a set of values, beliefs and life styles separate from the rest of society.

Sweet Danger and Architecture in Allingham

Although it stars Campion, Sweet Danger (1933) is an adventure novel, not a mystery: there is not a central mysterious situation that needs to be explained. The early chapters of the book show much inventive detail, but then it runs out of pep. Many of Allingham's mystery short stories benefit from a touch of adventure material, as well.

Like other Golden Age authors, Allingham was interested in architecture:

Death of a Ghost

Death of a Ghost (1934) is the first of Allingham's "literary" mystery novels. It is about a deceased, famous artist and his entourage.

Sexism. The artist lived with his longtime wife, and two cast-off models and ex-mistresses (Chapter 1). It is a very sexist arrangement. This is somewhat disguised by the high-toned references to Art. But in many ways Death of a Ghost is just a low-brow novel about a sexist, powerful man and his harem of sex-object girlfriends.

Allingham's radio play Room to Let (1947) tells of a household that is a bit similar: it has a dominant male and a house full of women. It differs in that none of these women have a romantic relationship with the man.

Royal Academy. The first line of the novel describes the artist as "LAFCADIO, John Sebastian, R.A." The R.A. stands for the real-life Royal Academy. The Royal Academy was and is a famous association of mainly painters. It was in 1934 very much the "Establishment" of British Art. In the 1934 era of Death of a Ghost, it represented the most conservative, most traditional and least avant-garde aspects of British Art. This opening indication that the artist was a member of the Royal Academy signals that he is part of the British Art Establishment of the period.

On the same first page Lafacadio is described as the "the first painter in Europe". However, today the members of the Royal Academy who joined that institution from say 1896-1934, are mainly seen as curiosities, and none too important in the history of art.

Allingham is right wing and I am liberal. The sexism of the artist and the conservative traditionalism of his Establishment part of the art world are remote from my tastes and attitudes.

Flowers for the Judge

Flowers for the Judge (1936) is the sort of "literary" mystery novel that made Allingham's reputation. It is a "whodunit" murder mystery, but one that emphasizes techniques most often used in "literary", non-mystery novels.

Main Mystery Plot. While I recognize skillful aspects of the book's writing, it also seems worthwhile to point out the book's many limitations. The modern-day main plot of Flowers for the Judge is skimpy in aspects that are often are good in other mysteries:

Other, less "literary" detective writers often excel at these ideas, which are skimpy in Flowers for the Judge.

On the positive side:

Both science and architecture are mainstays of much Golden Age fiction. This chapter of Flowers for the Judge benefits from both subjects.

Literary Quality. Flowers for the Judge has lots of characterization, one of the book's chief concerns. But it tends to be concentrated on dysfunctional characters: the failed marriage and its adulterous complications that is central to the story, as well as pompous doctors, second rate business executives and blow-hardy barristers. Consequently, we are seeing a poorer grade of human being, than the skilled detectives, scientists and artists who are the subjects of so much "non-literary" mystery fiction. Non-literary mystery novels often have in-depth characterization of the detectives and scientists thinking and reasoning. There are many exceptions to the following generalization, but: dysfunctional, failing human beings, like those in Flowers for the Judge, are often the preferred subjects of post-1860 "serious literary novels". The emphasis on dysfunctional characters, studied in depth, does indeed link Flowers for the Judge to mainstream literary fiction.

Ever since Flowers for the Judge and related Allingham novels were first published, admiring critics have praised them as being closer to mainstream, serious literary novels, than are many conventional murder mysteries. This is true, in the sense that their subject matter and techniques approach those popular in literary fiction, and avoid subjects common in "non-literary" mysteries. But this doesn't mean that Flowers for the Judge has more substance than "non-literary" mystery fiction, or is a better work of art. The approaches used by other, "non-literary" mystery authors have artistic value, too.

Historical Mystery Plot. Embedded in Flowers for the Judge is a historical mystery about a disappearance, that actually has little to do with the main modern-day plot of the book. The brief sections dealing with this historical mystery, add up to short story length (first page of Chapter 1, last page of Chapter 9, first half of Chapter 10, later half of Chapter 20, Chapter 21). The historical mystery is conspicuously closer to traditional mystery approaches:

All of this makes it the most substantive part of the novel. It too places a good deal of emphasis on characterization, though, like the modern day bulk of the novel.

The historical mystery subplot anticipates some short tales Allingham would write:

The Case of the Late Pig

Allingham's work is uneven. The novella "The Case of the Late Pig" (1937) has an excellent first chapter, with an intriguing situation. However, the novella degenerates into blandness after this.

It is interesting in that it is narrated by Campion himself. Allingham comes up with an original "voice" or prose style for Campion, that is not what one might expect. Much effort in fact is expended on distinctive styles of dialogue for most of the characters.

Detective Work - or its lack. "The Case of the Late Pig" often has the sleuths refusing to investigate the crime: an odd and unpleasant approach. The local head of the police claims that the people on the scene of the crime, who had strong motives, are "above suspicion" because they are wealthy and friends of his. The story itself follows suit, neglecting to even name most of these rich suspects, or have Mr. Campion question them. I have never seen anything like this in other detective stories of the era. Usually, all suspects are thoroughly investigated.

In addition, while Mr. Campion does some decent study of the murder scene and physical evidence there, he stops investigating for whole chapters, in order to go to fancy dinner parties, and to have conversations with his girlfriend. All in all, "The Case of the Late Pig" can make the reader feel that one is trapped in an anti-detective story, one where the sleuths simply don't investigate the crime. It can be a very unpleasant reading experience.

Social Commentary. "The Case of the Late Pig" is loaded with unpleasant far-right social commentary.

"The Case of the Late Pig" comes out against the "development" of an unspoiled country center. It seems less concerned with damage to the environment, than in changing an upper class community, its posh lifestyle and its architectural and social feel.

Anti-development ideas, more purely environmental, will play a role in Glyn Carr's Death Under Snowdon (1952). Similarly, most real-life anti-development politics today centers on concerns that development is destroying farmland, or important environments such as wetlands, or is promoting oil consumption by spreading out populations to commutes from remote areas. By contrast, "The Case of the Late Pig" is worried that development might harm the lifestyles of wealthy residents such as their country club and golf course!

The new young minister in the region is mocked as a bore, for talking about his plans to bring sanitation and a church-run medical clinic to the poor rural residents. The earnest young cleric is ridiculed by the author's spokesmen, for not understanding the alleged glorious traditions of English country life.

Also bizarre: Allingham's tribute to the alleged joy and affection working people in rural England feel towards their "masters" (her words). Did rural Englishmen really love being bossed around by rich idlers? One can contrast this with the left-leaning mystery writer E.R. Punshon. His Genius in Murder (1932) shows in gruesome detail, working people trying to cope with exploitative superiors.

"The Case of the Late Pig" is engulfed in strange far right-wing fantasies: a boot-licking concern for rich people and their country clubs, a belief that it is un-hip to worry whether the poor have sanitation or health care. It is hard to take Allingham's pretensions as a "literary writer" seriously. Real literary authors are much more in touch with actual social reality.

Schools. Campion's early education at one of England's elite "public schools" is treated as a miserable experience, marked by bullying he received. "Safer Than Love" depicts a somewhat less elite private school in mainly grim terms.

The Fashion in Shrouds

I didn't like Allingham's most prestigious book, The Fashion in Shrouds (1938). Its fashion designer and theater characters are so arch and affected, and depicted with such unfriendly malice, that the work has a smothering quality. There is lots of characterization, but it is unpleasant characterization. It shows skill and effort. But is it really good?

The basic plot premise is morbid, and depressing to read about (end of Chapter 1). It is a nightmarish treatment of the theme of "escape", given a much more light-hearted version in Flowers for the Judge and "Last Act".

The treatment of fashion salesman Rex shows anti-gay stereotypes (Chapter 1). Lugg's remarks (start of Chapter 6) also show anti-gay bigotry.

I confess I thoroughly dislike Lugg. His comedy routines seem like annoying interruptions in Allingham's work.

The heroine's office is a pleasant touch, and shows a bit of the Golden Age interest in architecture (start of Chapter 2). Even if it does resemble a glamorized version of Bentham's Panopticon (1786-1791). We can also have some polite applause for the golden salon (start of Chapter 3).

Just as Flowers for the Judge doesn't say very much about the publishing business, The Fashion in Shrouds is none too informative about the fashion industry. Works set at fashion houses were fairly common in this era, such as the movie musical Roberta (1935) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The Fashion in Shrouds doesn't go much beyond the conventional portrayal of design salons seen in works like Roberta.

Traitor's Purse

Traitor's Purse (1940 - 1941) falls into three sections, each with its own style. The opening chapters (Chapters 1 - 6) remind one of the Strand short stories Allingham had just been writing, later collected as Mr. Campion and Others. These stories deal subtly with character relationships among the sophisticated set in Britain, and feature much clever mystery plotting. Here the amnesia motif is well handled.

The middle section of the book (Chapters 7 - 10) is very much in the same style as Allingham's earlier thriller Sweet Danger (1933). Both works are thrillers, and seem a long way from the paradigms of the Golden Age country house mystery. Both stories have an extravagant wealth of bizarre, eccentric invention. Both guest star Campion's love interest, Lady Amanda Fitton. Both take place in very peculiar English towns, steeped in ancient traditions and a powerful sense of menacing activities going on behind the scenes. Both invoke an invented European institution going back to the Renaissance or beyond, Averna in Sweet Danger, the Bridge Institute in Traitor's Purse. Both books are full of large scale, unusual architecture, associated with centers of sinister power. This is partly in the Golden Age tradition of interesting buildings, although Allingham imaginatively takes this right over the top.

Traitor's Purse falls apart in its final section, when Campion goes On The Run from the authorities. His fugitive status starts mid way through Chapter 10, and lasts for most of the rest of the novel. The inventiveness disappears.

The opening has the amnesiac hero not know who is he is. Nor does he known much about the building in which he finds himself. The effect recalls dreams, where one wanders about in a strange environment.

The opening chapters of Traitor's Purse exude Modernity. They very much take place in contemporary times, with the War on. Such features as the hospital, the oilskins and the car are strikingly modern. The hero is cut off from his past due to his amnesia. This also serves to cut him off from anything old-fashioned. Instead, it plunges him into Now.

More Work for the Undertaker

More Work for the Undertaker (1948) is a Mr. Campion mystery.

The comedy-drama film Huddle (Sam Wood, 1932) is about college football players at Yale. The Yale students like to gather at the famous real-life Morey's restaurant, and sing choral songs. One old song begins "More Work for the Undertaker". Before seeing Huddle, I never knew there was such a song, or that Allingham was referring to it.

Philip MacDonald

Philip MacDonald was once a famous, much praised mystery writer. I have duly been studying his works. But so far, his occasional merits seem limited: But mainly MacDonald seems like a minor talent. However, many works by MacDonald are not easily available, and they could lead to a more positive assessment of his talents.

Some of MacDonald's books have been made into entertaining movies:

Both of these films are discussed in the articles on their directors.

Commentary on Philip MacDonald:

Philip MacDonald and the Bailey School

Philip MacDonald's books, like those of Margery Allingham, have some similarities to the Bailey school:

The Rasp

Anthony Gethryn is MacDonald's best known series sleuth, making his debut in The Rasp (1924), a well reviewed book I have never been able to enjoy. It does have some good sections.

The Rasp, like the later The Crime Conductor, is a full formal detective story, set in an English mansion, not a thriller. In both, the well-to-do owner of the mansion is killed. Servants play a bigger role in both books, than they sometimes do in Golden Age detective novels. Both mansions also house the murdered man's secretary.

The killer's motive in both The Rasp and The Crime Conductor is mainly emotional, bruised ego leading to irrational hatred. This psychological portrait makes interesting reading - but can seem weak as an actual motive for murder. (In general, MacDonald villains can be very different in personality from what they seem.)

Mystery Plot. SPOILERS in this section.

Both The Rasp and The Crime Conductor involve fake evidence at the crime scene designed to mislead the police, and Gethryn's reasoned investigation of the same.

BIG SPOILERS. Gethryn discovers evidence that the body has been moved (Chapter 4). He makes a similar discovery in The Link (last part of Chapter 8). It's a key insight in The Link. A similar discovery is made in The Crime Conductor. "The body has been moved" is thus a major part of several of MacDonald's best mystery puzzle plots.

Alibis are a big concern in both The Rasp and The Link.

There are complaints from modern reviewers that the solution is too long (Chapter 17). But I enjoyed this detailed look at how Gethryn arrived at his conclusions. It shows a focus on deduction and thinking.

The Detective. Chapter 2 contains a biography of Anthony Gethryn, before he took up sleuthing. Gethryn worked as a British spy in Germany during World War I. He is now suffering from "war strain", recalling Sayers' earlier portrait of her detective Lord Peter Wimsey in Whose Body? (1923), who was also a troubled veteran. Gethryn is otherwise so "perfect" as to not have any actual individual personality, being a wealthy member of the upper crust who is good at science, the arts, athletics, war work, publishing, painting and writing novels and poetry!

Gethryn is the publisher of a small newspaper, and its editor asks him to investigate the murder in The Rasp. Gethryn is thus working essentially as a reporter, recalling E.C. Bentley's reporter-sleuth in Trent's Last Case (1913).

The editor of the paper, journalist Spencer Hastings, also becomes a continuing character in the Gethryn books.

Gethryn is in some ways an amateur detective, being a wealthy man who is not paid for his sleuthing work. But in other ways he is not quite an amateur, being a former Government spy, and being the owner of the newspaper for which he is investigating. Gethryn's status of pro vs amateur is explicitly discussed by Gethryn and Scotland Yard's Inspector Boyd (Chapter 4).

Color. The newspaper's various editions are color-coded, an interesting idea (Chapter 1). At the start of The Link (Chapter 1), both men and women are described in terms of the color of their clothes.

Allusions. The quote about Hawkshaw the detective (Chapter 3.2) is from the play The Ticket-of-Leave Man (1863) by Tom Taylor. Gethryn mentions detection stories in general and Émile Gaboriau in particular (Chapter 4). He also refers to Gaboriau's series sleuth Lecoq. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes is also cited.

Gaboriau's sleuths excelled at investigating crime scenes, making deductions and reconstructing the crime from evidence there. This is a central part of Gethryn's technique (Chapters 4, 5).

The nursery rhyme "Who Killed Cock Robin" (published in the 1700's) is much used in mystery fiction. It will return in The Bishop Murder Case (1928) by S.S. Van Dine.

Anthony Gethryn, MacDonald's series sleuth, stars in The Link (1930).

Storytelling. The Link is a highly readable book. It has good story telling, settings, dialogue and characters: all features that help make a novel "readable".

The Link is a pure mystery novel: a who-done-it solved by a detective. It is not a thriller and has no suspense. It is not a tale of adventure.

Despite its skillful writing, The Link does not much resemble mainstream fiction, either. It is very much a detective story. No one is likely to say that it "transcends the genre". Nor is a cult likely to develop that The Link is "a serious work of literature". In some ways this is too bad: The Link has sound merits as a work of fiction, and it could hold its own with more "literary" works.

No Racism. The Link is thankfully free from any sort of racism.

Not a Country House Mystery. Two of the main characters are resident at the local manor house. And we duly see a luncheon party there (last part of Chapter 1). However, very few scenes are actually set inside this manor house. And The Link is therefore not a "country house mystery" in any traditional sense. People hoping for an old-fashioned English country house mystery will thus be disappointed.

Animals. The early chapters show the veterinarian hero treating horses and dogs.

The Wikipedia says about Philip MacDonald: "During World War I he served with the British cavalry in Mesopotamia, later trained horses for the army, and was a show jumper. He also raised Great Danes". These activities would give him a strong grounding in horses and dogs.

Mystery Subplot: Like a Dying Message. A conversation is overheard. It contains phrases the listener Thomas Marsh doesn't understand, can't interpret, and can't precisely remember (middle of Chapter 8). Later the sleuth figures out what was actually said (Chapter 12.2). The interpretation is ingenious, forming a nice solution to the mystery of what was said.

This mystery puzzle has a premise analogous to a Dying Message tale. The sleuth and reader have to figure out the meaning of a cryptic phase: just like a dying message.

Narrator. The narrator Dr. Michael Lawless is a good character. His growing friendship with Gethryn is a theme throughout the book.

Seeing the story through Lawless' eyes in The Link, is more interesting than Gethryn's Point of View in The Rasp.

World War I service as a battlefield doctor had a stressful effect on Lawless. It caused him to switch from being a human doctor to a veterinarian (Chapter 1). This recalls the "war strain" Gethryn suffers from in The Rasp.

The Sleuth: Characterization. Gethryn is first seen at the luncheon party (Chapter 1). He shows a social skill: being able to get good feelings and conversation going again, after others make awkward statements or create incidents. He'll demonstrate this ability again, in other books.

This ability doesn't seem to have anything to do with his detective work. He doesn't use it to help him figure out mysteries or solve crimes.


Rynox (1930), also known as The Rynox Murder Mystery, is a novel without a MacDonald series detective. Indeed, it is a novel without any detective at all. There is a brief initial investigation by the police, but mainly the crime is solved when the culprit confesses at the end.

Instead, much of the book is taken up with vaguely comic vignettes, telling the story of the events leading up to the crime and its aftermath. These often make entertaining reading. They are full of cameo portraits of working class members of Britain, a group of people usually featured less often in Golden Age fiction. Even the more middle class characters are businessmen here, being members of the Rynox company, and are not the upper class people of leisure one often finds in this era. Bailey and Allingham also sometimes featured sympathetic working class characters in their tales.

The book is divided into Reels, like a movie, and the first two Reels are much better than the third - the reader can skip from the end of Reel Two right into the Prologue which ends the tale without losing any plot.

Edward D. Hoch mentioned Rynox in a short story, "Egyptian Days" (1994). It's in Hoch's collection The Old Spies Club and Other Intrigues of Rand.

Mystery Plot. While considered as a puzzle plot, the book is very slowly paced - Agatha Christie would have packed all this into a short story - the puzzle is well constructed, and managed to surprise me at the end.

The solution has elements which recall the work of R. Austin Freeman, although it has no medical or scientific aspects. The sheer methodicalness of the culprit, and his willingness to put an elaborate, logically thought through and very detailed scheme into place over many months, seems Freeman like, as do many details of that scheme.

Murder Gone Mad

MacDonald's Murder Gone Mad (1931) is a pioneer novel dealing with an unknown serial killer. It is preceded by John Rhode's The Murders in Praed Street (1928), and Anthony Berkeley's awful (and racist) The Silk Stocking Murders (1928). Belloc Lowndes' The Lodger was much earlier, but that looks at a known suspect in a series of Jack the Ripper type slayings; so does Francis Beeding's Death Walks in Eastrepps (1931). Rhode's, Berkeley's and MacDonald's novels are the archetypes of an immense series of other works dealing with serial killers, such as Ellery Queen's Cat of Many Tails (1949).

MacDonald's book seems influenced by H. C. Bailey. The crimes are crimes against young people, as in Bailey. And the killer's motive, a perverted desire to see people suffer, is also straight out of Bailey's works: see "The Unknown Murder" (1923), for example.

Murder Gone Mad is not a favorite of mine. The early scenes are well written, but the book tapers off in diffuseness and mediocrity as it progresses. (This is a good description of MacDonald's Warrant For X (1938), as well.) The puzzle plot aspects of the work are nil. The killer is eventually caught through some good police work, but any "fair play" clues to the killer's identity are non-existent. Much of the material, as in much of the Bailey school, is "sick".

John Dickson Carr once picked MacDonald's book as one of the ten best mystery novels of all time. The scenes late in the book where the police stake out the village, setting traps for the killer, pop up in the final scenes of several of Carr's works. Carr admired this book (in 1946), not so much for its mystery plot elements, but as the ultimate in horror. Today, serial killer books are so common that they are recognized as a subgenre of crime fiction. Most people today would regard MacDonald's books as pretty weak tea. They have been superseded by a host of much sicker works.

The Choice / The Polferry Riddle

An impossible crime novel starring Gethryn is known as The Choice (1931) in Britain, and The Polferry Riddle in the United States. This book seems dull. The impossible crime's solution, while legitimate, must be one of the most disappointing locked room solutions ever. It seems reductive: something unimaginative and simple, that is less interesting than the locked room situation itself.

The story's setting. like that of The Crime Conductor, involves a bath.

The Crime Conductor

The Crime Conductor (1931) is a traditional, murder-in-an-English-mansion whodunit. After a decent first half, the book's awful second half includes a racist slur. The book cannot be recommended.

First Half. The first half depicts the initial investigation of the murder, and is pretty good (Book 1, and Book 2, Chapters 1-2). This part shows sleuth Anthony Gethryn figuring out everything about the crime, except who actually did it.

The mystery and its solution are variations on Dorothy L. Sayers' Whose Body? (1923). Sayers' book has two interlocking crimes, the body-in-the-bathtub and the Levy case; The Crime Conductor builds on ideas and approaches from both of them, combining them into a single murder puzzle. Sayers' novel in turn was strongly influenced by E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case. It is likely that these techniques in Trent's Last Case also directly influenced MacDonald.

This first half has a nice use of a floor plan:

This first half has some perfunctory, simple, unoriginal locked room features.

MacDonald marks the break between the two halves of his story, by having sleuth Gethryn go home at the end of the initial investigation (the novel's first half) and getting a good night's sleep. Such a clear break between the initial and subsequent investigation of a murder occurs in other Golden Age writers, such as John Dickson Carr.

Second Half. After this solid first half, The Crime Conductor disintegrates. Nothing much happens in the second half, except sinister facts about the suspects' backgrounds and motives being unearthed. The final choice of killer is unclued and arbitrary. There is also an ugly racial slur (Book Two, Chapter 4).

Detectives. Gethryn's Scotland Yard contacts, Assistant Commissioner Sir Egbert Lucas and Superintendent Arnold Pike, recall a bit in rank and personality H.C. Bailey's series police contacts the Honorable Stanley Lomas and Superintendent Bell. Bailey's police are much better developed as personalities, though. Still, one wonders if MacDonald has modeled his police officials on Bailey's earlier characters.

A difference: in Bailey, sleuth Reggie Fortune is a paid forensics consultant to the Yard. When he comes up with ideas, he is simply doing his job, one Scotland Yard has hired him to do. By contrast, Gethryn is an amateur and outsider. His ideas make the police look stupid.

Play-like Sections. Some episodes are structured like stage plays (Book Two, Chapters 3, 6). For more examples, please see my list Dramatic Dialogues: Play-like Sections in Fiction.

Theater Mystery. By 1931, H.C. Bailey, G. K. Chesterton, Baroness Orczy, Agatha Christie and probably other authors had written mysteries with theatrical backgrounds. While not a novelty, the often comic look at theater people in the first half of The Crime Conductor is pleasantly done.

MacDonald is especially interested in good-looking leading men: two play a role in The Crime Conductor. SPOILERS. MacDonald seems to have modeled these men on such real-life silent screen idols as Ramon Novarro and Rudolph Valentino, both of whom the book mentions. Such actors were already "dated" and behind the times in 1931, when talking pictures had come to Britain. The book mentions that it is now the era of the "talkies" in Britain and Hollywood.

The Crime Conductor also discusses aspects of the film industry. Please see my list Movies and Modernity: British Crime Fiction, for comments of other British mystery writers of the era on the film industry.

The Maze / Persons Unknown

This 1932 novel is known as The Maze in Britain and Persons Unknown in the USA. I think The Maze is a more interesting title.

I didn't like The Maze. Does that mean it is a poor book? Well, probably. But it also might mean that I'm failing to appreciate certain displays of skill, in the novel.

As a whole The Maze seems thin. It's mystery plot is thin, it's storytelling events are thin, it's characters are thin. And we learn little about the world. The novel seems minimalistic. On top of that, most of the book is unpleasant, with unlikable characters and depressing events.

Not Feminist. SPOILERS in this section. Much of The Maze looks at a rich man who is something of a sex addict. He likes to sleep with his household's maids, and anybody else who's female. At first one thinks one is reading an early #MeToo novel. Then one realizes that The Maze sees nothing wrong in the rich guy's affairs with the servants. They are sleeping with him consensually, and that's that. Some servants are even seen as instigators of these affairs. Modern-day feminists are likely to choke on this.

The only victim seen by The Maze is the rich man's wife, who is seen as victimized by his adulteries.

One of the maids is a subject of an ethnic slur.

Voice. MacDonald does a good job, coming up with a different "voice" for each suspect. Each suspect has their own way of talking. This does not make the suspects interesting as characters, however.

Inquests. Inquests were a feature of much mystery fiction, long before The Maze. For example, inquests appear in such well-known mysteries as:

Many inquests in mystery novels are quite long. So the very long inquest in The Maze has partial precedents.

R.I.P. / Menace

This 1933 novel is known as R.I.P. in Britain and Menace in the USA. It is a non-series book. It is a thriller, with elements of mystery.

I didn't like Menace. Its lack of inventive plot ideas makes it boring. And its unpleasant characters and grim events make it depressing.

The premise of Menace is one familiar from earlier Sherlock Holmes tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is "people in a remote country home menaced by unseen enemies or avengers from their secret past".

Driving. Menace opens with summaries of two long road trips, complete with figures for mileage. This anticipates the facts about distances traveled in London in Warrant for X (Chapters 5, 6). In Warrant for X these distances are used for detectival reasoning - something not present in the less inventive Menace.

Country driving is common in The Link.

Weather. Weather is described in The Link. A passage in Menace (middle of Chapter 1) has an elaborate description of the light in the sky.

Warrant for X / The Nursemaid Who Disappeared

Warrant for X (1938) with Gethryn seems overrated.

Mystery Plot. But it has some good detection in early chapters involving a shopping list (Chapters 5, 7). SPOILERS. Understanding the list, is a bit like understanding the Dying Message in other stories.

Hero. The hero Sheldon Garrett is an American playwright in London. This shows MacDonald's sympathy for Americans - and his interest throughout his writing in scenes where Americans and the British mingle and talk.

A very different playwright was a suspect in The Crime Conductor.

Opening - and The Link. The atmospheric opening recalls early scenes in The Link:

The opening has the hero in a booth in a tea shop, overhearing conversation from the next booth. The booths give a simple architectural dimension to the scene. An interest in architecture was common in Golden Age fiction.

Villain. The main feature of this novel is its depiction of its villain, a sinister mastermind who never appears on stage in the story. Unfortunately, villains have never had the slightest interest to me; I only like detectives.

Reporters. Two crime investigators, Dyson and Flood, work for Gethryn's newspaper. They are series characters in the Gethryn tales. Dyson and Flood first appeared in The Noose (1930), according to a footnote in Warrant for X (start of Chapter 7). Their full names are given in The Noose: Francis Dyson and Walter Flood. Dyson and Flood make a brief appearance in The Crime Conductor (start of Book Two, Chapter 7). They are both efficient there, and with perverse or even kinky personalties. The same is true of their much longer appearance in Warrant for X.

Tacky looking newspaper investigator Dyson rides that favorite form of British Realist School transportation, a motorcycle (Chapter 8). Motorcycle riders in British fiction of the era are often seen as genteel and classy. Dyson is different: he is an aggressive, loud rider on a big cycle. He is one of the few British motorcyclists of the era who approaches a modern-day tough "biker".

Flood is as polished and well-dressed as Dyson is tacky. In this, the pair recall policemen Morel and Pelts in the tales of Frederick Irving Anderson. Morel and Pelts first appeared in the early 1920's, before Dyson and Flood's debut in 1930.

The pair respond differently to tricky chairs (end of Chapter 7). One suspects their responses are deliberate and used by them to project their different images.

The pair's introduction and very different initial investigations offer a fun comedy of manners (Chapters 7, 8). This brings some much needed comedy to the book.

Scientific Detection. Flood (Chapter 14) returns for a vivid piece of Scientific Detection. It does not lead to immediate plot advancement. But it is interesting in its own right, as a technique.

Police Tasks. In both The Crime Conductor and Warrant for X, Gethryn creates a lists of tasks he wants the police to perform. This storyline follows the same steps in both books:

  1. Gethryn creates a list of task for the police. The tasks are numbered.
  2. Inspector Pike is in charge of executing these tasks.
  3. Pike reports back to Gethryn. Pike explains task-by-task, on what the police learned by doing each task.
  4. Gethryn expresses amazement at the abilities of Inspector Pike and/or Scotland Yard.
This is a highly formal storytelling approach. Both the tasks given by Gethryn, and Pike's report on the execution of the tasks, are numbered.

Many detective tales contain lists of still unsolved mysteries, that need to be investigated. These Gethryn lists are a bit different. They do not list ALL the unsolved mysteries in the tales. Instead they specifically look at what the POLICE need to investigate.

MacDonald is skilled at creating "voices" (personal verbal styles) for his characters. Gethryn's task lists sound like Gethryn; Pike's reports on the execution of the tasks, sound like Pike. However, one can see differences in Gethryn's style between The Crime Conductor and Warrant for X. And differences between Pike's styles in the two books as well.

Where to find these lists:

Class. BIG SPOILERS in this section. In The Crime Conductor, some employees at the mansion turn out to be sinister or have bad backgrounds.

These concerns are pushed to an extreme in Warrant for X. Large numbers of servants turn out to be preying on their employers. It's evil working class people attacking noble upper class good guys. I confess I don't find this approach admirable or likable.

Both bad backgrounds and harmful behavior by servants play a role in The Maze.

Gethryn knows something bad is up in Warrant for X, when he sees a man who is too lower class to be socially acceptable, visit an upper class house. Gethryn's concerns turn out to be correct: the lower class man is a vicious villain. The Dubious Moral: Any violation of class distinctions, means Evil is on the loose.

This is the exact opposite motive, of the Mysterious Visitors to wealthy homes that show up in Mary Roberts Rinehart and her followers. Such Visitors are often lower class, alright, and they are not normally welcome in wealthy homes: just like in Warrant for X. But the Visitors often turn out to be sincere, earnest Good Guys, going to the wealthy home to alert it about a serious problem.

I like the Mysterious Visitors of the Rinehart School. And don't like these aspects of Warrant for X.

Allusions. The opening mentions and draws on The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904) by G.K. Chesterton. There are also references to R. Austin Freeman's sleuth Dr. Thorndyke and his scientific detection (end of Chapter 1, Chapter 5.3). Inspector French of Freeman Wills Crofts also is mentioned (end of Chapter 1).

Influences. The playwright hero's suspense scenes (Chapter 10) recall earlier mystery writers:

The familiarity of this material in Warrant for X, makes it less interesting.

The Wood-for-the-Trees: a short story

"The Wood-for-the-Trees" (1947) seems to be the only short story about Gethryn. It too is a serial killer tale. Its main puzzle plot idea about the serial killing had long since become a mystery cliche by 1947. It does have an interesting clue to the murderer's identity.

Its main value is its story telling: not so much the serial killing, as its view of an English village and country house dinner party. While no masterpiece, it is absorbing reading.

The dinner party is full of intellectuals, including a physicist. It is notable for three women in the arts: a novelist, a sculptor and a writer of newspaper leaders (what Americans call editorials). The sculptor makes striking comments. (She sculpted a "Riondetto group"; I've tried and failed to find out what "Riondetto" means.) A woman sculptor is a key suspect in The Crime Conductor.

MacDonald Traditions. The dinner party includes both American and English guests, like the one in The Crime Conductor. An American is a prominent character in The Link, although he is not at that book's luncheon party.

The Link and "The Wood-for-the-Trees" share numerous features in their storytelling (although they have quite different mystery plots). SPOILERS. Both:

The Rasp and "The Wood-for-the-Trees" share imagery: Warrant for X and "The Wood-for-the-Trees" share imagery: Gethryn has just arrived from abroad at the start of "The Wood-for-the-Trees", and is out of touch with British crime news. This recalls the start of The Noose.

Lynn Brock

Lynn Brock wrote several detective novels, about sleuth Colonel Gore.

Commentary on Lynn Brock:

Links to Colonel Gethryn

Lynn Brock is placed tentatively here, next to Philip MacDonald, because of similarities between his series sleuth Colonel Gore, and Philip MacDonald's detective Colonel Gethryn. Both men: Both sleuths appeared in their first books in 1924. I don't know which came first. Or whether one writer influenced the other. It might all be a coincidence. Details of Gore's life are in The Deductions of Colonel Gore (Chapter 2).

Both Colonel Gore and Colonel Gethryn start out as amateur sleuths. But Gore is more purely amateur than Gethryn:

Gore seems less of a superman than the all-skilled Gethryn. He also seems much less wealthy. However, Gore seems more involved with "modern life", having starred in a documentary film, and become a film celebrity. Gore's involvement with professional filmmaking is unusual among British-written mystery novels of the era.

Colonel Gore and Gender

Colonel Gore resembles several other Bailey School detectives, in that he is explicitly heterosexual.

His name, Wick Gore, seems symbolic. A wick, at the top of a candle, seems like a phallic symbol.

And Gore suggests an involvement with violence. Actually, there is not much violence in the detective case in The Deductions of Colonel Gore. But he does have a past career as a hunter in Africa. Gore is the source of the African knife used as the weapon in The Deductions of Colonel Gore.

The Deductions of Colonel Gore

The Deductions of Colonel Gore (1924) is Lynn Brock's first novel, and the book debut of Colonel Gore. It has many problems, and cannot be recommended. Among other things, it contains a racial slur (Chapter 2).

Soap Opera and Melodrama. The opening has excessive soap opera. The look at the suspects' marital problems (Chapter 1) anticipates the openings of Had I But Known (HIBK) mysteries, which also frequently begin with looks at characters' troubled personal lives. There is an undercurrent of hysteria and anxiety in this opening chapter, that also anticipates the tone of HIBK books. These sections of The Deductions of Colonel Gore are not much fun to read.

Mystery Puzzle. Considered as a mystery puzzle, The Deductions of Colonel Gore does not show much sophistication. The plot consists largely of various suspects' movements around the crime scene and encounters with the victims. There are few hidden patterns or surprises or clever alibis lurking into these movements, unlike suspects' movements in better books by other authors.

On the plus side, the movements are elaborate. They are also pleasantly linked to maps.

SPOILER. The choice of killer surprised me.

Detection. One of the better parts of The Deductions of Colonel Gore is Gore's investigation of the first murder (Chapters 6-11). This shows Gore vigorously (if not always accurately) reconstructing the crime. Gore often shows imagination and skill in making these reconstructions. Discussion of the time and cause of death are decently done.

The murder takes place a city street at night. Anyone in the city could have committed it. (In the terminology of mystery criticism, the book does NOT have a "closed circle of suspects". Instead, the crime is "open" to have been committed by anybody.)

But Gore repeatedly assumes the killer must be someone he has already met, someone who is connected to the case. This is faulty logic. It causes Gore to make assumptions about who the killer is: assumptions which turn out wrong. The novel should have been called The Leaping to Conclusions of Colonel Gore.

SPOILER. Gore's idea that the killer must be found among suspects he has encountered, affects not only his instal reconstruction, but his solution at the end of the book. His reasoning at the end, shows that one of the suspects fits the known profile of the killer (Chapter 28). That is true - but he fails to consider that some unknown Britisher might just as well have committed the murder.

The Graphs. An unusual multi-media feature: the graphs showing Gore's changed suspicions of suspects over time (Chapters 11, 27). These are played more for comedy, than as serious aids to detection.

In addition to their use within a story, such graphs might help people think about a tale. Such diagrams might help authors plot stories, or critics analyze already published tales.

The graphs anticipate the simpler gauges in Verdict of Twelve (1940) by Raymond Postgate. Postgate's gauges show only a juror's thoughts at a single instant in time - while the more complex graphs in The Deductions of Colonel Gore trace the development of Gore's ideas over time. This time axis or temporal dimension adds a whole layer of complexity.

Suburbia. The Deductions of Colonel Gore mainly takes place in upper class suburbs of a modest-sized English town. One gets a portrait of life in such suburbs: large mansions, but always neighbors near by and supporting facilities such as an upscale club and hotel. This makes an interesting contrast to both cliche settings of Golden Age mystery fiction: country houses and glamorous London.

The suburban setting might be a link to H.C. Bailey. Bailey's detective Mr. Fortune is shown as living in a fancy suburb and solving his first case there in the first Fortune tale "The Archduke's Tea". Fortune's suburb is near London, though. Later Fortune tales also sometimes feature genteel suburbia.

Class and the War. The wealthy suspect Arndale comes in for repeated criticism for having dodged service in World War I (Chapter 1). What especially seems to bother Gore, is that this man doubled his family's wealth, through the war profits he made from the family's ship-building firm. Gore seems at least as upset by this war profiteering as he does by the way the man stayed out of the Army. However, the phrase "war profiteering" is not used explicitly.

By contrast, we are forcefully reminded of the wartime Army service of various servants: the butler Clegg (start of Chapter 6), the chauffeur Thompson (start of Chapter 15). The latter is directly contrasted with the upper class suspect Arndale's non-service.

However, The Deductions of Colonel Gore is not militaristic, in the sense that serving in the War is not presented as a Good Thing, or glamorized. Gore explicitly suggests that war service was not a good experience (Chapter 1). The butler has lost fingers (start of Chapter 6).

The Deductions of Colonel Gore as a whole doesn't show much enthusiasm for either the upper or working classes. Corrupt members of both are portrayed. Negative looks at members of the upper class can be construed as criticism of the British class system. However, no efforts to change or reform this class system are proposed. The book seems to have a weary acceptance of the system as reality.

Scandal. British detective novels repeatedly suggest that blackmail is the worst of all crimes, even worse than murder. I am hardly going to defend blackmail. Still there are disturbing attitudes in The Deductions of Colonel Gore with which I disagree.

The wealthy heroine is being blackmailed over a past affair. Everyone, including Gore and the heroine, seems to believe she has an absolute right to conceal this. This reaches the extreme of covering up the first murder. No one goes to the police. Eventually, more deaths ensue. If the hero and other characters had gone to the police and told what they knew, it is possible these deaths could have been averted. One can ask, does a rich woman have the right to lie about her sex life, at the cost of human life? The Deductions of Colonel Gore is far more concerned with the upper classes being able to present the right image of sexual virtue, however falsely, than about justice or capturing a killer.

Anthony Gilbert

Another British writer who like Ethel Lina White mixes suspense and mystery is Anthony Gilbert. Anthony Gilbert (pseudonym of British woman writer Lucy Beatrice Malleson) was a prolific author whose career stretched from 1925 to 1973.

Commentary on Anthony Gilbert:


Scott Egerton, a Liberal Member of Parliament, is the brainy amateur sleuth in around ten of Gilbert's early novels (1927-1935). The author gets comedy out of how well-dressed, polite and unflappable he always is.

Gilbert wrote a few books with M. Dupuy, a French police detective. Reportedly Egerton also shows up in some of these.

Gilbert's most popular series sleuth, is the somewhat shady lawyer Arthur Crook. Crook debuted in 1936. He recalls a previous British lawyer sleuth, H.C. Bailey's Joshua Clunk, who debuted in 1930. Both Joshua Clunk and Arthur Crook are:

The two men share similar last names, one syllable long, beginning with a C pronounced like K, followed by a second consonant, a short vowel, and ending with a K.

The Tragedy at Freyne

The Tragedy at Freyne (1927) is the first Scott Egerton detective novel. It has some virtues. But it is so grim that it is not much fun to read.

Links to Death in Fancy Dress. Within Gilbert's work The Tragedy at Freyne anticipates Death in Fancy Dress. Both are:

The Detective. Scott Egerton is mainly without the humor surrounding him in Death at Four Corners. In early parts of The Tragedy at Freyne, he is treated as a potential suspect. He only slowly emerges as the detective. The novel establishes Scott Egerton's perfection of dress and appearance. But without seeing much humorous about it.

The Tragedy at Freyne is an actual "origin story" for Scott Egerton. We learn things about his political career. And also about his personal life.

I don't think Egerton's political activities revealed here are that interesting. However, I don't know much about British politics of the 1920's. Maybe if I did, this material would reveal intriguing dimensions.

By contrast, what we learn about the career of Scott Egerton's enthusiastic reformer father is indeed interesting (Chapters 1.3, 5.1). I wish the book had more about this. Although the book does not explicitly say so, there are hints the father was a liberal reformer. The word "reformer" suggests that the father was not a radical.

Sunken Garden. The country house has a sunken garden (Chapter 5.1). It reminds one of the sunken garden in The Pyramid of Lead (1924) (Chapter 2), by Bertram Atkey. Both gardens are surrounded by hedges, that give them privacy. The Pyramid of Lead was at one time a fairly well-known mystery novel, serialized in The Saturday Evening Post.

SPOILERS. This episode with the garden develops into a nice mystery idea (Chapter 17.2). Like everything about the sunken garden, it shows the interest in Landscape in classic mystery fiction. As is often the case in such fiction, the mystery plot is based on the landscape. A flower bed also plays a role in this mystery: also a landscape feature. A constant sense of downward movement is present in this mystery subplot (Chapter 17.2). Vertical movement is a perennial Gilbert subject.

Death at Four Corners

Death at Four Corners (1929) is a Scott Egerton / James Bremner mystery partly set in London, and partly at a country house called Four Corners. Despite the country house setting, this is a serious-toned tale with little of the comedy of manners often associated with such a setting. Earlier The Tragedy at Freyne was also a country house mystery with a very serious tone.

The Opening. The opening of Death at Four Corners (Chapters 1, 2.1) is the best part of the novel. This section shows the discovery of the body. It has good initial detection and forensics by Scott Egerton, recalling Mr. Fortune's studies of bodies in H.C. Bailey. Also like Bailey, Egerton makes a deduction from a botanical clue. The colors of the flowers serving as clues are given: recalling Bailey's love of color imagery.

This opening benefits from a well-drawn English landscape. Bailey also liked complex English landscapes, and the cliff path in Death at Four Corners perhaps has a Bailey-like feel. The sea edge has quicksands along it, recalling Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868).

Egerton's story urging kindness to beggars, is consistent with Gilbert's positive views of the poor and marginal.

Also a plus in the opening: pleasant comedy gently poking fun at the ultra-suave, perfectly dressed Egerton. Like the hero Detective William Murdoch of the contemporary comedy-detective TV series Murdoch Mysteries, Egerton always manages to be perfectly groomed in the most impossible situations. Egerton and Murdoch are both funny and admirable. Both men are always highly polite, and nothing touches their aplomb.

A brief scene has the doctor befuddled by a fancy men's clothing shop. Another men's clothier is in "The Siamese Twin" (1919) by Frederick Irving Anderson. Gilbert's scene enables elaborate color imagery, dealing with shirts. The colors are subdued, and have an earth-tone feel.

Egerton persuades the doctor to do a number of adventurous things. Egerton is willing to do these things, because he is Mr. Perfect, and always doing everything noble. This oddly anticipates lawyer Arthur Crook persuading his clients to do audacious things, in tales like "The Black Hat". In Crook's case, these audacious things are on the fringes of law and ethics - the exact opposite of the noble Egerton. In both cases the persuasion adds an entertaining element to the storytelling.

The Rooming House. Next comes a long, long look at the victim's rooming house by Scotland Yard policeman James Bremner (Chapters 2.2, 3). This section is 71 pages in the old hardback. It examines in minute endless detail the victim's room, the house as a whole, and the victim's last night there. This section recalls Freeman Wills Crofts in its routine investigation by a Scotland Yard man. Bremner sketches out a theory of what happened, near the end of this section, also like Crofts.

In some ways this section's detail is impressive. Gilbert's descriptive skills never falter. People looking for the minutiae of a British rooming house in 1929 would learn much. And even such highly prolific writers as Edgar Wallace and Erle Stanley Gardner might blanch at the prospect of having to write 71 pages about a conventional British rooming house.

However, much of this is dull. Other authors regularly send their detectives into rooming houses, and recount their investigations in a few pages. And Gilbert makes few detective discoveries in this section.

British Realist School writers sometimes include Backgrounds, showing some business or institution. Death at Four Corners can be seen as a having a Background showing the rooming house.

Jews: A Positive Look. A good feature: a brief appearance by a non-stereotyped Jewish jeweler, who helps the police hero (Chapter 3.1).

The Solution. SPOILERS. The mystery plot has largely the same solution as Trent's Last Case (1913) by E. C. Bentley. Specifically it resembles the second of the three solutions in Trent's Last Case. Trent's Last Case was immensely influential in this era, and Death at Four Corners was hardly the only mystery modeled on it. Still this lack of originality makes it hard to recommend Death at Four Corners as a whole.

The Body on the Beam

The Body on the Beam (1932) is a Scott Egerton / Inspector Field mystery novel. The book focuses relentlessly on routine investigation. The opening (Chapter 1) does a good job with the initial police investigation of the crime scene.

Detectives. The Body on the Beam is mainly humorless in tone. Scott Egerton has lost his comic sparkle, and is a "serious" character. He still has his same job, though: a Liberal MP (Member of Parliament) for a constituency in Yorkshire. Egerton is described politically as "a true constitutionalist" (start of Chapter 5.1). In An Old Lady Dies (1934) he's also a supporter of the "constitutional" (see Curtis Evans' article on An Old Lady Dies at The Passing Tramp).

Scott Egerton is also described (start of Chapter 5.1) as "a flawless specimen of the upper middle classes". Note that he is NOT described as "upper class", the way Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey would be.

The Body on the Beam falls into two parts:

  1. Inspector Field investigates. At the end of this part, he arrests a suspect. This part (Chapters 1-6) takes up around 40% of the novel.
  2. Scott Egerton works to uncover the real culprit. Egerton hires a high-toned lawyer, who in turn recommends private investigator Felix Gordon. Gordon shares investigative duties with Egerton. This part (Chapters 7-14) takes up around 60% of the novel.
Felix Gordon is one of those colorless, conscientious British private eyes, that sometimes show up in British novels of the era. He does endless routine sleuthing, just like police in the Freeman Wills Crofts tradition. While Gordon is a genuine private investigator, he has little else in common with the hard-boiled private eyes of Dashiell Hammett and his successors.

Detection. Police Constable Oliver is the first official on the crime scene. He comes up with four sound reasons while the crime is actually murder, despite initial appearances (start of Chapter 1.3). These reasons are grounded in his earlier examination of the crime scene (Chapter 1.2). Inspector Field soon finds more reasons why it must be a murder (Chapter 1.3). Such "it's really a murder" passages are common in detective fiction. This one is not brilliant, but it's logical and decently done.

Imagery and Color. An early book jacket shows Oliver discovering the body. Oliver looks handsome and well-built in his dark-blue Constable's uniform. The cover's contrast between the victim in pink and Oliver uniformed in blue is already present in the novel (Chapter 1.2). We also learn that Oliver is fairly tall, and "alert" in intellect and attitude.

There is a definite erotic charge, in having a uniformed man like Oliver wandering around in a house full of Loose Women. The way he Takes Charge of things, also helps.

Architecture. Inspector Field investigates how the architecture of the rooming house is linked to the murder (Chapter 1.5). He's especially interested in the front wall of the building. And the possibility of people climbing up and down it. This echoes the heroes climbing on the cliff face in Death at Four Corners (Chapter 1).

Death in Fancy Dress

Death in Fancy Dress (1933) is a non-series mystery novel. However, it includes a character Jeremy Freyne, and so perhaps is in the same universe as the Scott Egerton series mystery The Tragedy at Freyne.

Death in Fancy Dress is a dreary read. It eventually develops a murder mystery, but the killing doesn't take place until page 129.

A Really Bad Mainstream Novel. Much of Death in Fancy Dress is a mainstream novel, focusing on the heroine's "scandalous" behavior. Although engaged, she actually has private conversations with men who are not her fiancee (gasp!). The book takes this with extreme seriousness. Her family, fiancee, friends, and everyone in her small town regards this as the biggest scandal they've ever heard of. Even the officials at the inquest are far more interested in investigating her sexual behavior, than they are in investigating the murder.

Death in Fancy Dress has romance novel aspects. The heroine is torn between two men. Unfortunately, I found both men unappealing, even repulsive:

The heroine should dump both of these guys, move to London and find some nice man her own age.

Atmosphere. Dorothy L. Sayers liked Death in Fancy Dress for exactly the same reason I dislike it. The book's atmosphere is relentlessly grim. I simply found this depressing. Sayers thought that it gave a convincing atmosphere of something wrong among the book's characters and situations. Sayers has a point: there is indeed plenty wrong in this saga of murder and blackmail. But I still think this atmosphere helps make the book joyless to read.

Mystery Plot. SPOILERS. As a number of people have pointed out, a positive feature of the mystery solution, is the unexpected choice of villains. This fooled me.

Moonstone. In Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868), the crime takes place at the time of the heroine's big 18th birthday party. Something similar happens in Death in Fancy Dress.

Don't Open the Door / Death Lifts the Latch

The book known as Don't Open the Door (1945) in Britain or Death Lifts the Latch in the USA, is a thriller-mystery set in World War II era London.

Nurse as Heroine. Like several books by Mary Roberts Rinehart and her follower Mignon G. Eberhart, Death Lifts the Latch centers on a young nurse who gets into a mystery after being sent out on a nursing case. Unlike Rinehart or Eberhart, unfortunately, the nurse in Death Lifts the Latch does not do any sleuthing. Instead, she just gets into trouble.

H.C. Bailey's sleuth Mr. Fortune is a famous surgeon. The nurse heroine of Death Lifts the Latch perhaps also reflects the medical contexts of a number of Bailey School tales.

Forced into a New Identity. SPOILER. At one point, a villain briefly tries to force the heroine into a new identity, and convince other people she is insane (Chapter 12). This recalls Anthony Gilbert's The Woman in Red (1941). This was made into a superb film directed by Joseph H. Lewis, My Name Is Julia Ross (1945). There are antecedents for such plot gambits: see A. Merritt's Seven Footprints to Satan (1928) (Chapters 1 - 3), and Helen McCloy's Dance of Death (1938).

Comic Relief. What I found myself enjoying the most about Death Lifts the Latch was not any of the thriller elements, but rather a few passages of comic relief. The opening chapter finds the heroine making her way through a foggy night: an irresistible setting. She meets a young man with a glib line of comic patter, who may be a good guy or a bad guy.

And later, a second case for the nurse provides laugh-out-loud humor (Chapter 8). Mrs. Trentham is full of comic observations and zany dialogue. She is a delight. Many of her observations might be classified as macabre or "black humor", long before that term seems to have been coined. This chapter also benefits from being full of mystery plot developments.

Mystery Plot. Death Lifts the Latch eventually develops a fairly elaborate mystery plot. Unfortunately, it seems full of holes and implausibilities.

There is much too little actual detection in Death Lifts the Latch for my taste. We often seem to be trapped in suspense sequences, rather than having anyone investigate the crime. The heroine's first night in the sinister house (Chapter 2) at least gets the plot moving.

Sequel to Murder: The Cases of Arthur Crook and Other Stories

Sequel to Murder: The Cases of Arthur Crook and Other Stories is a large collection of Anthony Gilbert short stories. It is edited by John Cooper. The first five of the short stories below star Arthur Crook as detective. Short stories I like and recommend are marked with a * after their title.

You Can't Hang Twice *. "You Can't Hang Twice" (1946) has a memorable setting in a thick London fog at night, like the victim's last night in Death at Four Corners, and the opening of Death Lifts the Latch.

The killer is caught by Arthur Crook setting traps, rather than by detective work. There is little actual detection in the tale. So the story has to be classified more as a thriller, rather than as a "mystery" or "detective story".

Still, if "You Can't Hang Twice" is a thriller, it has numerous features that are more common in mysteries than in thrillers:

All of these should please mystery fans, including myself. The house architecture reflects the Golden Age Mystery's interest in architecture. The way witness Smyth goes out a window onto the roof, recalls the police investigating whether a killer could have entered or left the rooming house through a high window in The Body on the Beam (Chapter 1.5).

Arthur Crook is compared to a quick-change artist. It's metaphorical: it refers to his quick changes of attitude, not clothes. Still, the reference to quick-change artists reflects the interest in men's clothes in Gilbert.

Square, conventional witness Smyth feels he is at a disadvantage at the party, because so many men are in military uniform (it's 1945 and World War II has just ended). Meanwhile he's in nerd-like clothes. People make fun of him. This recalls how impressive policeman Oliver and his Constable's uniform are in the rooming house, in contrast to the inhabitants, in The Body on the Beam (Chapters 1.2, 1.3).

"You Can't Hang Twice" shows skepticism about men just getting out of the army after World War II. This parallels a similar skepticism in the United States, shown in The Silver Leopard (1946) by Helen Reilly.

Once Is Once Too Many *. "Once Is Once Too Many" (1955) has British tourists visiting a mountainous region, the Austrian Tyrol. Suspense ensues, with people in danger of being pushed off high mountain slopes and cliffs. The mountains and subject recall H.C. Bailey's "The Hazel Ice" (1929). "The Hazel Ice" is set in Swiss mountains, rather than Austria, though.

The cliffs also recall the opening of Gilbert's own mystery Death at Four Corners.

Color plays a role, with a pink scarf worn by the victim, and the tour group titled "Scarlet Runner". (In real-life, "Scarlet Runner Beans" are a well-known kind of bean plant.)

The story benefits from much humorous narration: also recalling the opening of Death at Four Corners.

A Nice Little Mare Called Murder. "A Nice Little Mare Called Murder" (1964?) is an uninspired murder mystery. The solution to the mystery has plot problems. SPOILERS:

Give Me a Ring. "Give Me a Ring" (1955) is a thriller, not a mystery. It's a poor work, showing little imagination. It's blatantly racist in its choice of villain.

The Black Hat *. "The Black Hat" is a murder mystery. It succeeds both as a work of storytelling and character, and also as a puzzle plot. The tale provides a soundly-done series of clues indicating the killer.

Color is mainly only found in describing the heroes' eyes and hair.

Instead of conventional color imagery, the tale emphasizes black: the black hat of the title, a suspect's black hair, a prison cell compared to "a black sheath", the wartime blackout. The blackout perhaps takes the place of the fogs in so many Gilbert tales. The blackout is contrasted with light: used for both atmosphere, and as part of the mystery puzzle plot.

The tale's setting of "an office in an office building, largely deserted at night" is a common one in mystery fiction and TV shows. Other authors' versions often have a guard in the building's lobby, watching people go in and out. "The Black Hat" doesn't have a guard. But it does have perhaps analogous figures: air raid wardens and police watching the building outside, during the War. These make unusual, interesting variations.

Arthur Crook is the detective. He works with non-series Good Guy Sir Aubrey Bruce. As a romantic hero who is short, slim, intelligent, well-educated, sensitive, passionate and highly marriageable, Bruce recalls romantic hero Franklin Blake in Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone (1868).

The Reading of the Will *. "The Reading of the Will" (1927) is most vivid in the backstory passages, describing the characters' struggle with poverty. These remind us that Gilbert is a left-wing author. There is a ferocious attack on Social Darwinism (survival of the fittest), seen as something the rich do to assault the poor. Today ideas similar to Social Darwinism are part of the monstrous ideology of libertarian conservatives and Republicans. They are always trying to cut off poor people's medical care, just like the rich aunt in the story.

BIG SPOILERS. The mystery plot in "The Reading of the Will" (1927) anticipates a plot idea in Mignon G. Eberhart's "Spider" (1934) and Agatha Christie's Appointment With Death (1938). This is perhaps a coincidence. "The Reading of the Will" was apparently never reprinted from its original British magazine appearance in 1927, until 2017. So it is especially unlikely that the American Eberhart saw it. Both Eberhart and Christie use this plot idea in different ways from Gilbert, and from each other.

Curtains for Me. "Curtains for Me" (1951) is about that dreariest of crime fiction cliches: people planning to murder their spouses. Gilbert tries to dress this up with plot twists. These are OK, but don't really amount to a good story. The twists do add elements of mystery to the tale.

Point of No Return. "Point of No Return" (1968) is a thriller that eventually develops aspects of mystery. Some of the mystery is easily solved, even obvious - which makes the story even more like a thriller rather than a mystery. The tale's crime plot is detailed - but not really much good.

The two women at the center of the tale are clearly Lesbians, although the term is not used. Their romantic feelings are explored with unusual explicitness, for 1968. Unfortunately, both members of the couple are deeply flawed. They are not an idealized portrait, or role models, by any means. The thriller plot would not work without their being flawed. I'm not sure what my response to this should be. Should one say "visibility above all", and commend the tale for showing Lesbian experience? Especially romantic feelings? Should one condemn the tale for its ambivalent portrayal of a flawed couple?

"Once Is Once Too Many" (1955) has a cheerful, one-sentence reference to a "devoted female pair" with men's nicknames. This too looks like a Lesbian couple.

Cul-De-Sac. "Cul-De-Sac" (1952) is a standard kind of "inverted mystery", where someone's commission of a would-be "perfect crime" is tripped up at the end by a mistake they've made. Like many such tales, "Cul-De-Sac" is brief. I don't like this story. And I'm glad that Gilbert doesn't seem to have specialized in such "inverted mystery" tales. But I have to admit that Gilbert's plot is logical and self-consistent.

Following Feet. "Following Feet" (1935) condemns what we now call "insider trading" in the stock market. This practice, now illegal, was previously condemned by R.A.J. Walling in That Dinner at Bardolph's (1927).

"Following Feet" is a thriller with some mystery elements. The mystery aspects are not that good, and the one clue to their solution is inadequate. The tale has some decent storytelling, but is otherwise routine.

This is one of a number of short stories starring series policeman Inspector Field. Inspector Field also appears in the Scott Egerton novel The Body on the Beam.

Three Living . . . and One Dead *. "Three Living . . . and One Dead" (1955) is a brief murder mystery. It has a solution that is both imaginative and logically sound.

The premise of the tale is nearly identical to that of "The Black Hat". But both the details of the story, and the solution, are different. (Gilbert used somewhat similar subject matter in her non-series novel Death in Fancy Dress (1933).)

In addition to what "Three Living" shares with "The Black Hat", "Three Living" uses another premise, often found in Ellery Queen. This premise is "Three suspects found at a crime scene - which is guilty?"

The Man with the Chestnut Beard *. "The Man with the Chestnut Beard" (1927) is a detective story. Its solution is supported by numerous hidden clues, in Gilbert's best manner.

The phone booth down the street from the office, anticipates the phone booth across the street from the rooming house in The Body on the Beam (start of Chapter 2.1).

Gilbert's trademark fog appears.

SPOILERS. An unexpected choice of detective emerges near the end of the tale.

A suspect is dressed in the formal clothes worn by British male eliies, such as "City Gentlemen" (well-to-do London financiers). The clothes form a clue in the tale. Scott Egerton wears a similar spectacular outfit in The Body on the Beam (Chapter 8.1). He is very impressive looking, and is in "all the glory" of the outfit. In both works, the man in formal clothes is contrasted with a working class man. Like the Constable's uniform in The Body on the Beam (Chapters 1.2, 1.3), these formal clothes have an erotic charge. They combine glamour and power. Both the suspect and Scott Egerton carry elaborate sticks with ornate heads, that serve as phallic symbols. So do the shiny silk top hats the men wear.

Authors other than Gilbert sometimes feature such clothes. They are sometimes worn by both honest men and crooks of the Rogue School. They are especially prevalent in the works of J. S. Fletcher.

Over My Dead Body. "Over My Dead Body" (1951) looks at that crime fiction cliche, the patient and the medicine. Gilbert likes to treat such cliches by working as many twists and variations on them as possible. These twists provide a bit of interest to this brief, mild tale. (See "Curtains for Me" for another example of a mystery cliche developed into twists.)

The Funeral of Dendy Watt *. "The Funeral of Dendy Watt" (1970) is a thriller, not a mystery. Normally I much prefer mysteries, but unexpectedly enjoyed "Dendy" a lot. "The Funeral of Dendy Watt" has elements that are fairly common in good mysteries, and perhaps less common in thrillers:

Imagery in "The Funeral of Dendy Watt" recalls The Body on the Beam:

Horseshoes for Luck *. "Horseshoes for Luck" (1935) is another tale narrated by Gilbert's series character, policeman Inspector Field. It's a full-fledged mystery, and a good one:

Narrator Inspector Field is expert at horse-racing terminology and slang. It gives the narration an earthy, jazzy tone. This anticipates Arthur Crook's vivid way of speaking.

In both Inspector Field tales "Horseshoes for Luck" and "Following Feet", one man feels he has been financially victimized by another. All these men are fairly high-flying in their dealings.

The narrator refers to real-life thriller writer Edgar Wallace. Who was indeed extremely famous in that era.

We learn that policeman Inspector Field likes to ride motorcycles. This is the British Realist School's favorite form of transportation. It often signifies Modernity.

He Found Out. "He Found Out Too Late Just How Good an Artist Mabel Was" (1964) is a great title. But the tale itself is ordinary. It's another story starting out with a situation which somewhat resembles the shared premise of "The Black Hat" and "Three Living . . . and One Dead". But it's not as good as either. The tale does have a mystery plot idea, which is OK.

A Day of Encounters. "A Day of Encounters" (1972) is a minor story, whose chief merit is some humor. It has the "people trying to kill spouses" plot of "Once Is Once Too Many" and "Curtains for Me", combined with the "ambiguous poisoning" of "Over My Dead Body". Both this tale and "Once Is Once Too Many" open humorously with a woman telling her troubles to an expert - who has heard this sort of thing before.

Sequel to Murder *. "Sequel to Murder" is a brief murder mystery. Its main murder mystery plot involves a few twists and turns. And it is creditable that the author manages to pack twists into such a short tale. However, as a whole this murder mystery plot is fairly conventional.

Better is a non-crime mystery subplot: "What mysterious activities is the elderly woman doing?" This mystery comes to an unexpected solution, a solution that is also logical and fairly clued.

Much earlier in the 1920's, The Big Four (Chapters 3, 4) by Agatha Christie had a murder in a village cottage: also the setting of "Sequel to Murder". The "daily getting of milk" plays a minor role in both Christie and "Sequel to Murder".

Other Short Stories

Gilbert wrote many other short stories, not included in Sequel to Murder: The Cases of Arthur Crook and Other Stories.

The Eternal Chase *. "The Eternal Chase" (1965) is that rarity in pre-1970 mystery fiction, a historical mystery story. It recreates a whole way of life in its period, looking at two households. In its scope this recreation reminds one of the detailed portrait of a rooming house in Death at Four Corners. However, the rooming house was working class, while the households in "The Eternal Chase" are fairly upper crust.

"The Eternal Chase" has a murder mystery, complete with solution. Unfortunately, I found the solution easy to guess. The mystery is reasonably detailed. But not in general creative. The tale is best for its reconstruction of a historical era.

"The Eternal Chase" takes a trenchant look into family structure in Victorian times. Negative aspects are explored.

"The Eternal Chase" is reprinted in the anthology known as Fifty Best Mysteries or as Fifty Years of the Best from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, edited by Eleanor Sullivan.

When Suns Collide. "When Suns Collide" (1971) is fairly minimalistic. It gives a somewhat generic picture of rural life. And it only develops crime elements at the end of the tale. The story also suffers from a morbid quality.

"When Suns Collide" is reprinted in the anthology Ellery Queen's Mystery Bag.

J.J. Connington

Dorothy L. Sayers pays tribute to Connington's The Two Tickets Puzzle (1930) in Chapters 27 and 29 of her The Five Red Herrings (1931). Giving him full credit, she builds on one of his ideas for part of her solution.

Commentary on J.J. Connington:

Sir Clinton Driffield: a Chief Constable as Sleuth

Sir Clinton Driffield is the series sleuth in most of Connington's novels. Driffield is the Chief Constable for a fictitious English County, not too far from London.

A Chief Constable was the head officer and administrator for the police in their counties or districts. They often show up in Golden Age British detective novels, but are rarely the main sleuth. Instead, what typically happens is this: the local police make a first investigation of a murder; they go report to their local Chief Constable, who is their superior and in charge; the Chief Constable makes a decision to call in Scotland Yard, deeming the problem too serious for the locals to handle.

Chief Constables were rarely depicted as having any great skill as detectives. Their job was administrative and decision-making. They often have Sir in their names, like Sir Clinton Driffield, and seem to be local big-wigs and representatives of the Upper Classes. They tend to be shown as bluff hearty country types. Some authors show them as highly competent, stalwart men, the kind who made the British Empire allegedly great; others depict these local members of the elite as incompetent figureheads. (For an example of an incompetent Chief Constable who is obsessed with upper class privilege, see Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig (1943) by H.C. Bailey. An even worse Chief Constable obstructs justice in Bailey's Black Land, White Land.)

In any case, Chief Constables are mainly shown at their desks, getting reports and assigning men to the investigation. By contrast, Sir Clinton Driffield goes right out to crime scenes, making a full scale investigation. Driffield is especially skilled at discovering evidence at the scene, such as blood stains. He also is good at reconstructing crimes, based on these observations. He is much better at these tasks than any of the local police officers who work for him.

Murder in the Maze

Murder in the Maze (1927) is the debut mystery novel of Connington's series sleuth Sir Clinton Driffield.

Characterization. A big plus of Murder in the Maze is the characterization of sleuth Sir Clinton Driffield and his "Watson" Squire Wendover. The two carry on extensive dialogues, which are witty and acerbic. The dialogues convey how both characters think, talk and respond to the world around them.

Characterization of the suspects and victims are uneven. The victims are remarkably unpleasant, and some of the suspects are stick figures. But among the suspects, the male secretary Ivor Stenness and the brother Ernest have personalities. Connington has the good sense to foreground these two in much of the investigation.

Mystery Plot. Murder in the Maze suffers from the paucity of its mystery ideas. Its mystery puzzles are sound, but very simple, and not too creative.

SPOILERS. The main mystery puzzle involves one character who seems to have an alibi, but actually doesn't. Such "alibi puzzles" are frequent in Freeman Wills Crofts and some of his followers. The alibi puzzle in Murder in the Maze has an especially simple solution.

Other works by Connington also offer alibi puzzles. Alibi puzzles have some limitations, and seem especially weak when they are the center of long mystery novels without much other detectival interest: which is the case with Murder in the Maze. For one thing, there is little actual mystery about the actual murder. All of the mystery instead surrounds one suspect's alibi. The actual murder is routine, and has few puzzling features. This is the opposite of an "impossible crime" murder, for example, in which how the killing itself was done forms a big mystery.

Mystery Plot: Clues. SPOILERS. There are clues to the identity of the killer. Oddly, the opening (Chapter 1) offers a good indication of who the killer is, but this indication is never discussed by the detective, or mentioned again. This indication is pretty blatant and obvious. Later, there is another clue, one of those "statements by a suspect that reveal he or she has information that is only possible if the suspect is the killer". As the book points out (Chapter 18), this clue is weak: in this case, the suspect might have gotten the information innocently from someone else!

There are some clues that allow the sleuth to reconstruct the crime, including the order in which the killings took place (Chapter 18). This is mildly well done. Once again, there are some indications in the opening (Chapter 1) that are relevant, but which the detective does not mention.

The Maze. The maze is a striking setting for the murder. But the maze actually plays almost no role in the mystery puzzle plots. The book and its mystery elements would have been identical if the crime had taken place in, say, a garden bower or a gazebo.

The idea of setting a murder in a maze is a good one - maybe a terrific one. It was praised by John Dickson Carr, who later created his own such mystery "All in a Maze" (1955). Affair at Bromfield Hall (1984) is an episode of the spy TV series Scarecrow and Mrs. King, charmingly shot on location at a maze and country house in Britain.

Disappointingly to me, we do not learn much about the floor-plan pattern of the maze, navigating the maze, or about the principles of mazes in general. The fact that the maze has two centers in interesting - but the book does not go much beyond this in describing the maze.

Instead, Murder in the Maze stresses horror elements: feelings of panic at being lost in a maze. This treats the maze as an anti-rational experience: being trapped in a world one cannot understand. This horror aspect seems to be well-received by bloggers in the 2000's. But I personally found it unpleasant (I don't like horror in general).

The Case with Nine Solutions

J.J. Connington's The Case with Nine Solutions (1928) has some features that remind one of H.C. Bailey. It deals not with a straightforward single crime, but a complex coincidence laden tangle perpetrated by two villains, operating independently of each other. At the center is a horrendous science-based scheme victimizing a woman. Another woman, a maid, is brutally murdered. A third science-based plot occurs at the finale, putting the detective in jeopardy. The book also falls in the same place along the realist-intuitionist axis as Bailey. There are a good deal of science-based criminal schemes, but little use of science-based detection. There are none of the structural interests of the realist school, such as alibis, backgrounds, or the "breakdown of identity". Instead all of the detection and most of the puzzle plotting is straightforwardly in the intuitionist mode. All of this reminds one of Bailey. There is much less of a thriller element than in H.C. Bailey, however, and Connington's prose is much plainer.

Connington is an exceptionally cold and heartless writer; no one in the book seems to have the slightest sign of human compassion or warmth. Also, his plot is a mess, and the detection routine, with the exception of the science-based elements in the tale. The book is not recommended at all.

Warning: The title suggests that this is a mystery in the tradition of E.C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case, Ellery Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery, or Anthony Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case, dealing with multiple, successive solutions. This is not so. Instead, the 9 solutions are all routine permutations of each other, and are discussed as a group one third the way through the case, in Chapter 6.

The Opening. The best part of The Case with Nine Solutions is the opening (Chapters 1 - 5).

The beginning is virtually a quotation of R. Austin Freeman: it deals with a young doctor, serving as a substitute for another, who is called out to a mysterious house where he witnesses the aftermath of a crime. This is a common initial situation in Freeman's books. But nothing that comes thereafter is especially Freeman like, and the doctor himself drops out of the work after a while.

The opening scenes of driving through a foggy night are quite effective. They have a vivid tactile quality missing in much of the later novel. They also have a historical aspect, showing today's reader what driving was like in the 1920's.

The opening recalls the start of Murder in the Maze:

Detective's Notebook. The end of The Case with Nine Solutions contains excerpts from the detective's notebooks, showing the evolution of the detective's thinking over the course of the novel's events. The early books of Gladys Mitchell will feature similar notebook-finales.

The first entry in the notebook has Sir Clinton summarizing key points of the mystery, in a list. In "After Death the Doctor" Sergeant Longridge lists the key aspects of the mystery, around two-thirds through the story. His list is simpler and less detailed than the one in The Case with Nine Solutions. The one in The Case with Nine Solutions is also more suggestive of solutions, while the list in "After Death the Doctor" simply itemizes unusual points.

Relationship. A subplot involves a scheme to conceal an illicit personal relationship. SPOILERS. This recalls a similar gambit in The Tragedy at Freyne (1927) by Anthony Gilbert. Gilbert's treatment is dramatic; Connington's is matter-of-fact.

Names. A comic footnote to the book: in Chapter 15 Connington introduces a middle aged maid called Mrs. Marple. Today no one would dream of naming a character this, but in 1928 the first of the series of Miss Marple stories that would make up Agatha Christie's The Tuesday Club Murders had just appeared in magazines.

The Croft-Thornton Research Institute (Chapter 1), might be named as a tribute to Freeman Wills Crofts.

Dr Ringwood, Dr. Markfield and Silverdale (introduced in Chapter 1) are examples of Connington's fondness for family names made up of English words. So are Squire Wendover, Sergeant Longridge in "After Death the Doctor", Ashby and Eastcote in "Before Insulin", Mark Brand, Inspector Hartwell, George Earlswood and Hawkstone in The Four Defences.

Influence on Carr?. John Dickson Carr was a Connington enthusiast: see his essay "The Greatest Game in the World" (1946). Carr's first novel was published in 1930, and he mentions two of Connington's 1920's novels with admiration. They were evidently part of his literary background in the years of his formation as a writer. SPOILERS. Some similarities:

All of this could have served as a model for Carr's novelistic technique.

The Sweepstake Murders

The Sweepstake Murders (1931) is one of those mysteries about a tontine-like pact, where the last man to die gets a fortune.

Mystery Plot. The Sweepstake Murders is a pleasantly straightforward detective story, of a kind not always seen, then or now. After an opening setting forth the characters and their background, it concentrates entirely on murder mysteries, their detection and solution. Additional factors contribute to this purity of approach:

By doing all of this, The Sweepstake Murders achieves a sound level of detective story craftsmanship. It is not a masterpiece, but it is a solid piece of work.

When the mystery puzzles of the first two murders are unraveled, they each point to the killer as the only person who could have perpetrated the puzzles. This gives strong clues to the killer's identity. This approach is an indication of Connington's careful craftsmanship.

The Sweepstake Murders is constructed like a series of short stories. Each murder and its investigation is fully set forth in detail, forming what is essentially a short story within the novel.

The first murder involves a clever mystery puzzle idea. Variations on this idea have been much used by later writers. The section involving the first murder also contains the best writing in the novel.

Howard Haycraft's sole comment on Connington in his history of mystery fiction Murder for Pleasure, was to include Connington on a list of "conventional method" British detective writers. The Sweepstake Murders is indeed conventional. The kinds of puzzle plots in the various murders, fall into the same broad categories as those widely used by other British Realists of the era. One would not have been surprised to see The Sweepstake Murders signed by Freeman Wills Crofts or John Rhode. The sheer conventionality of The Sweepstake Murders is indeed a limiting factor. It is more an intelligent effort in standard directions, than any great work of originality or imagination. SPOILER. The alibi puzzle beloved by Crofts, and the murderous devices used by Rhode or the Coles, are central to the murder puzzle plots in The Sweepstake Murders.

Settings. The Sweepstake Murders does not have a full Background. That is, it does not set forth in detail some institution. The early chapters have an account of the Sweepstakes, modeled on a real-life lottery of the time. This perhaps forms a mini-Background.

The Sweepstake Murders shows industry coming to a traditionally agricultural county, something the rich landowner Watson laments. He also seems unpleased about the building of cinemas in the district, and their cultural influence on the local working class. An unpleasant local businessman has become rich through building and owning these cinemas. This guy rose from poverty to become a wealthy man, and is depicted as the most abrasive, rude man as possible. Connington's interest in the cinema as an industry was shared by other British mystery writers of the era. Please see my list Movies and Modernity: British Crime Fiction. Some of these writers' views on the cinema were quite different from Connington's.

The first murder is in the countryside, set against a spectacular - and dangerous - gorge. Such landscape features were beloved by Freeman, Rhode, Bailey and other British Realists. Connington uses the setting to add drama to the crime. But it doesn't actually play any role in the mystery puzzle.

Ingoldsby. The inquest (Chapter 8), quotes from Thomas Ingoldsby's poem Hand of Glory (circa 1837). This quotation centers on "the Dead Man's knock", later used by John Dickson Carr as the title of a 1958 mystery novel. According to the Wikipedia, other mystery writers also refer to The Ingoldsby Legends, including Dorothy L. Sayers in The Nine Tailors (1934) and Ngaio Marsh in Death in a White Tie (1938).

Motorcycle. Inspector Severn rides that favorite form of British Realist School transportation, a motorcycle (start of Chapter 9).

The Ha-Ha Case

The Ha-Ha Case (1934) is a Sir Clinton Driffield mystery. The name of the book was changed to The Brandon Case for its first American publication. But contemporary reprints in all countries seem to be entitled The Ha-Ha Case. It is indeed a much more creative and unusual title.

Cold. The Ha-Ha Case got excellent reviews when published in the 1930's, and seems to be well-regarded today, as one of Connington's better books. But I didn't enjoy it much. Why?

The book has remarkably nasty and vicious characters. Both the characters and the book's tone are extremely cold, without traces of human feeling. In this The Ha-Ha Case is consistent with other cold Connington works, also not much fun to read. I don't ilke this at all.

However, it is possible that my reaction to this is just a personal taste, without any universal validity. Maybe other readers like heartless stories about nasty people. The popularity today of noir, dark suspense, and serial killer crime fiction suggests that Connington's darker tomes might have contemporary appeal.

The Ha-Ha. The Ha-Ha is an outdoor feature. It is described in the book. And I will not spoil it here by describing it. I'd never heard of a Ha-Ha.

The murder in The Ha-Ha Case (Chapter 5) has similarities to the murder in Murder in the Maze (Chapter 2):

The Mystery Plot: Solution. The favorable review by "Francis Iles" (Anthony Berkeley) said that the solution "took me completely by surprise". It was a complete surprise to me too. This is a Good Thing.

However, the solutions has problematical aspects.

BIG SPOILERS in the rest of this section. Please don't read if you haven't read The Ha-Ha Case yet.

Figuring out the murder in The Ha-Ha Case requires technical expertise. One suspects few people had that expertise in 1934, and even fewer today. I don't have it at all. (By contrast, solving the murder in Murder in the Maze takes no technical expertise at all.)

In addition, their are structural problems with the way the killing is narrated, in The Ha-Ha Case. These seem borderline unfair.

Macho Men. A highly macho pair of men show up (last part of Chapter 6).

Left-wing Politics. Young Johnnie espouses left-wing ideas, about trying to help the poor (middle of Chapter 2).

Left-wing social thinkers John Galsworthy and H.G. Wells are cited admiringly for their pro-feminist beliefs (middle of Chapter 3).

By contrast, conservative Jim endorses insider trading on the stock market (start of Chapter 4).

Before Insulin: a short story

"Before Insulin" (1936) is a short story featuring series sleuth Sir Clinton Driffield. It is reprinted in the anthology Bodies from the Library (2018), edited by expert mystery historian Tony Medawar. This anthology is also known as Bodies from the Library 1. And then reprinted in the anthology The Edinburgh Mystery: And Other Tales of Scottish Crime (2023) edited by Martin Edwards.

It's a mystery story, with a "fair play" series of clues to the solution. The mystery does not involve murder or violence, however.

Links to The Ha-Ha Case. "Before Insulin" is a variant on the main mystery subplot in The Ha-Ha Case (1934). Both deal with villains who produce documents they claim gives them the right to a big sum of money. Both documents were allegedly produced by a rich young man, in similar circumstances in the two tales.

The technical details of the mystery puzzle are different in the two works. The solutions have one element in common - but otherwise the solutions are different. Connington has clearly tried to provide as much variation as possible between the two works.

Still, the tales are so close, that it would make sense to publish "Before Insulin" as an appendix to The Ha-Ha Case, so readers can compare and contrast the two works.

One could go into details of the two works, showing their similarities and differences. Doing so, however, would spoil the two stories.

Not a Medical Mystery. The title "Before Insulin" suggests a medical mystery. Actually, the tale has little to do with medicine or medical science. It would be wrong to classify it as a medical mystery, in any standard sense of the term.

Mark Brand

Connington wrote two books about his series sleuth Mark Brand, The Counselor (1939) and The Four Defences (1940). Mark Brand is clearly an attempt by Connington to create a much friendlier and hipper detective than his other series sleuth, Sir Clinton Driffield. Mark Brand is a radio columnist, a very glamorous profession in that era, as well as a high tech one, something Connington clearly liked. Brand is humorous and witty, full of energy, and a loud dresser. Brand's conversation is full of literary quotes, in the tradition of E.C. Bentley and Dorothy L. Sayers. Brand is known as The Counselor, the title of his radio persona, who gives advice to his listeners.

The name Mark Brand recalls Dr. Markfield in The Case with Nine Solutions. The names suggest a man making his mark upon something.

The Four Defences

The Four Defences (1940) shows Connington's interest in science, both in the murder plot itself, and in the means of detection. Mark Brand employs an analytic chemist to study such clues as soil samples and paint. Connington explains such scientific analysis in fascinating detail. These sections recall the work of R. Austin Freeman. However, Connington stresses the recent nature of many of these methods of scientific analysis, and we do seem to be seeing approaches more modern than the somewhat Edwardian ones used in Freeman's earlier novels.

The interest in "the disposal of the body" also seems Freeman like. There is a crypt scene recalling that in Freeman's Dr. Thorndyke's Discovery (1932).

Connington shows how radio broadcasters can appeal to the public for information. These portions of the novel, mainly in the early chapters, show considerable ingenuity. The gambit of having radio broadcasters look into unsolved crimes popped up in such entertaining Hollywood pictures as George Sherman's Mystery Broadcast (1943).

The Four Defences is notable for the complexity of the plot. Every chapter unveils much new detail about the crimes. There is no padding: Connington has produced a Golden Age detective novel whose length is justified by the richness of the plot.

The Four Defences is set in April 1939, five months before England went to war in September 1939. It is set in a civilian world, with no trace of World War II.

The Four Defences shares elements with The Case with Nine Solutions:

After Death the Doctor: a short story

"After Death the Doctor" seems to be a non-series short story. It is reprinted in the anthology The Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories (2020) edited by Martin Edwards.

The title "After Death the Doctor" is only loosely linked to the tale's plot events.

The latter parts of the tale involve an elaborate landscape, centering on a rural train station and the constructions around it. This station anticipates the garage in The Four Defences: both are architectural infrastructure linked to transportation.

Links to Murder in the Maze. "After Death the Doctor" shares elements with Murder in the Maze:

Despite the above shared features, the two works feel quite different.

Links to The Case with Nine Solutions.

Some of the above features are also shared with the opening of The Case with Nine Solutions:

Mystery Plot. The alibi puzzle of "After Death the Doctor" is solved by a combination of two good ideas. Both are clever. They are much more creative than the simple alibi idea of Murder in the Maze.

Detectives. Like the Driffield books, "After Death the Doctor" is investigated by policemen. Just as Sir Clinton Driffield is better at police investigation than the men who work for him, so is Inspector Dronfield better than his Sergeant Longridge in "After Death the Doctor".

Gladys Mitchell

Gladys Mitchell is a prolific British detective writer. Her work is often unconventional.

Commentary on and works by Gladys Mitchell:

Gladys Mitchell and the Bailey School

Gladys Mitchell has some elements in common with H.C. Bailey: Despite these points in common, it is hard to argue that Bailey and Mitchell are two peas in a pod. The Saltmarsh Murders lacks Bailey's sense of corrosive evil lurking in the shadows, or sinister conspiracies against the helpless.

Although Mrs. Bradley is medically trained, and hence in theory recalls the scientific detectives of Freeman, one sees little in common between Mitchell and the Realist School deriving from R. Austin Freeman and Freeman Wills Crofts. Science, medicine and technology play little role in The Saltmarsh Murders.

Backgrounds detailing some business or social institution, a major feature of the Realist School, do occur in Mitchell.

While alibis are investigated, they are neither central nor ingenious, as they are in Crofts and his followers. There is no Crofts-style plodding, methodical investigation by the police.

Sexual Orientation

Gladys Mitchell was a lesbian. Nicholas Fuller's introduction to Sleuth's Alchemy says "Her companion for much of her life was Winifred Blazey, who wrote her own detective stories." Fuller does not discuss at all if this relationship was sexual. Tony Medawar wrote at the Internet discussion group GAdetection (September 30, 2008): "I've read some of Mitchell's unpublished poetry and she was certainly a lesbian." In reply at the same forum, Douglas G. Greene wrote: "Mitchell was indeed a lesbian, as people who knew her assured me."

The Saltmarsh Murders

A Spirit of Revolt. The Saltmarsh Murders (1932) by Gladys Mitchell is about the most inflammatory work ever packaged as a mystery novel. Its celebration of illicit sexuality, and ferocious attack on a member of the Christian clergy, is unparalleled in other Golden Age mystery authors.

The Saltmarsh Murders pays tribute to P. G. Wodehouse, and in part suggests that it is just a parody of English mystery novels, especially the cozy kind that take place in small English villages and in which the local vicar is a benevolent character. Such a characterization no doubt helped to get the novel published, and gave it a polite position in the world of English letters. However, the book's full frontal attack goes far beyond anything that can actually be classified as mere parody. Mitchell gives no explicit political position in the book whatsoever, and one cannot tell from it what her politics are.

The novel is explicitly Freudian, with its detective heroine Mrs. Bradley being a psychiatrist and follower of Freud.

The book's events seems as least as surreal as anything in the official Surrealist movement. It is hard to imagine anything topping the events in Chapter 6 or Chapter 9, for instance, as a surrealist statement.

Mystery Plot. How does Mitchell's mystery technique compare with other writers of her day? The Saltmarsh Murders is a full-fledged Golden Age mystery novel, with a complex plot. The book starts out with some early, mysterious situations that do not involve murder. These include some disappearances, and a pregnant unmarried woman who refuses to name the father, thus leading to much speculation. Mitchell's treatment of these early mysteries is quite imaginative, with good storytelling and interesting solutions.

Only after a hundred pages or so do the actual murders appear in the book. The solution of these murder mysteries is uninventive, and shows little of the skill that distinguishes the earlier sections of the novel. There is an interesting choice of killer.

St. Peter's Finger

St. Peter's Finger (1938) complicates the depiction of class, society and religion in Mitchell. St. Peter's Finger is a whodunit mystery, set against a Background of a Roman Catholic convent in small town Britain. The mystery takes up only a portion of the novel; in many ways, St. Peter's Finger is largely a detailed realist novel about a convent. It focuses on the business enterprises run by the convent: a school where well-to-do parents pay to have their teenage daughters educated, a hotel for travelers, and an orphanage for poor teenage girls. Mitchell is more interested in exploring the convent's life in detail, than in evaluating whether or not the convent's practices are helpful, harmful, successful or morally sound. In fact, she almost never asks such questions.

St. Peter's Finger is perhaps unusual in tales of convent life, in focusing on enterprises run by the convent, rather than the religious life of the sisters. The organization of society is Mitchell's subject.

Forced Labor. Mitchell gives an in-depth look at the work performed by the girls in the orphanage: the most vivid part of the novel, and one that goes in scope far beyond the minimal attention to working class labor in many Golden Age detective novels. The girls work full-time as domestic servants in the hotel, doing the bulk of the labor in the hotel. Their work is the economic foundation of the convent's entire enterprise. The girls are unpaid, compensated only by a bed to sleep in, modest meals that probably have little nutritional value, and education restricted to training to become a maid or cook in a rich person's house after they leave the orphanage at age 18. A few of the brighter girls get secretarial training. The girls are separated from the world, and rarely allowed to leave the convent. Some of the girls are orphans, but others are incarcerated against their will in the so-called orphanage for being "incorrigible": an undefined term that perhaps means they have been imprisoned there for being sexually active.

Today this looks like slave labor. And the orphanage looks like a slave labor camp.

Everyone in St. Peter's Finger regards these arrangements as normal. No one ever questions them, including sleuth Mrs. Bradley. Some people assert that since the girls are lucky enough to be given a bed and food, that it is fair they work in return. However, most people don't actually endorse this situation either. It is just "there", something to be described. And we wouldn't have this portrait today, if the novelist Gladys Mitchell hadn't been curious enough to write it.

One has the uncomfortable suspicion that upper class Britons in 1938 regarded any conditions among the working class as acceptable, no matter how dismal. Even slave labor.

St. Peter's Finger is a well-written realistic novel. Its depiction of a convent and its businesses keeps the attention of the reader; its routine mystery elements are more perfunctory. However, the disturbing social issues it raises make one uncomfortable.

Other British mystery writers were exploring working class labor at this time:

Se also the sympathetic depictions of servants in R.A.J. Walling novels: That Dinner at Bardolph's (1927), Prove It, Mr. Tolefree! (1933), The Corpse With the Eerie Eye (1942).

Women's Enterprises. St. Peter's Finger is unusual, in looking at businesses entirely run by women. The nuns, some lay women teachers, and the young girl workers in the orphanage do everything in the convent's enterprises. Psychiatrist-sleuth Mrs. Bradley is also a professional woman.

There is an unsympathetic but interestingly detailed look at a "games mistress" at the school: what in the USA would be described as a "teacher of physical education" or a "girl's gym teacher". This in-depth background likely reflects the fact that school teacher Mitchell sometimes worked as a games mistress herself.

St. Peter's Finger is not a tale about feminist role models whose work achieves heroic perfection. The convent enterprises embody negative features such as forced labor and class exploitation. They are run by people who are less than perfect, such as the games mistress.

The depiction of hotel cleaning by the young "orphan" girls, anticipates the look at house cleaning and its technology in "The Vacuum Cleaner".

A look at the serious economic problems of aging working women appears in other British writers at this time: the nurse in Like a Guilty Thing (1938) by Belton Cobb, the companion in "The Nemean Lion" (1939) in The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie. These are isolated women workers, though, not women running a large scale enterprise, as in St. Peter's Finger.

Alternatives to Pure Capitalism. St. Peter's Finger shows an enterprise outside conventional capitalism. It reminds us that Western society is full of government agencies, cooperatives, non-profits and religious and charitable enterprises that are far from pure market capitalism. Mitchell likes to explore such organizations:

Most of these enterprises are in small towns or rural areas. Mitchell is perhaps reminding readers that Britain contains unusual, alternative organizations, outside of the more visible big cities.

For mysteries set at non-profits see:

Alternative Sexuality. Some girls are imprisoned at the convent for being "incorrigible". This is a reminder of both that sexuality in Britain contains modes outside of convention - and that one can be imprisoned or punished for such sexuality.

The Saltmarsh Murders also looks at unconventional sexual behavior.

Religious Fanaticism and its Dangers. SPOILERS in this section. The killer in St. Peter's Finger is motivated by religious fanaticism. St. Peter's Finger can be read as a warning about excessive devotion to religion: it can lead to an unbalanced mind, and even murder. Similar warning scenarios appear in other mysteries of the era, such as The Afterhouse (1913) by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

Warnings about the dangers of religious fanaticism were common, not just in mystery fiction, but in US and British culture as a whole in the 1900-1970 era. It was considered good to be religious, but dangerous to be excessively religious. The ideal person went to church on Sunday, practiced their religion sincerely and tried to lead a good life - but avoided a fanatic devotion to religion. This was part of a general cultural praise for moderation. The ideal person was "balanced" and "well-rounded". Aristotle's dictum of "moderation in all things" was constantly quoted by teachers and professors. So was Thales and Juvenal's phrase "a sound mind in a sound body".

But this has changed since the rise of extreme conservatism since the 1970's. Conservatives encourage religious fanaticism: You can't be too religious for them. Conservatives see the route to political power, through the labors of a group of fanatic religious activists who will work 24/7 for right wing causes.

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop

The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (1929) is the second Mrs Bradley mystery.

Landscape. Among the highlights of The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop is the magically atmospheric description of the woods (Chapters 2, 3).

Golden Age mysteries frequently had an interest in landscape. The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop goes beyond pure landscape, however, to stress the atmosphere of its woods.

Working Class Labor. The butcher shop is an example of Mitchell's interest in working class labor.

Teenage Good Guy Aubrey (Chapter 3.2) is shown reading Eugene O'Neill's classic play The Hairy Ape (1922). The play is an archetypal look at a working class man.

Links to St. Peter's Finger. The opening of The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop shares subject matter and imagery with the later St. Peter's Finger:

Sleuth's Alchemy: Short Stories

Gladys Mitchell's complete mystery short stories are collected in Sleuth's Alchemy, available from its publisher Crippen & Landru.

"A Light on Murder" (1950), "The Jar of Ginger" (1951) and "Peach Jam" (1951) are all tales that turn on the intricacies of handling food. Sometimes this is for the purpose of poison, but not always. Mitchell has an eye for complex processes involved with food handling. "Juniper Gammon" (1950) is related to these tales, but more distantly.

"The Fish-Pond" (1953) is an inverted mystery. It too turns on an intricate process, that also involves handling objects. This is not a food process, but it is almost as domestic. Here the process is "draining a fish-pond". Mitchell's interest in water technology appears in Death at the Opera.

"Manor Park" (1950) is a whodunit. The sole mystery is to pick out a killer from a group of suspects. Hidden in the story are three clues. These clues, once they are pointed out by the detective, indicate the killer. Such a profile of clues is a standard sort of mystery puzzle, a kind that needs ingenuity to write. It is associated with such works as Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story, "Silver Blaze" (1892), E. C. Bentley's Trent's Last Case (1913) and Ellery Queen's Halfway House (1936), as well as many other Ellery Queen tales.

"Our Pageant" (1951) has an interesting setting among modern-day people recreating traditional Morris dancing. It also has an ingenious solution. Both anticipate to some degree Ngaio Marsh's Death of a Fool / Off With His Head (1956), although Marsh's solution is different and more complex. Mitchell had previously explored this important part of British folk culture in Dead Men's Morris (1936).

Mainly Backgrounds. "The Swimming Gala" (1952) has an arbitrary solution, none too interesting. But it has a richly developed setting. The setting shows much of the life of a whole small city. We get portraits of the city government, civic events, and an institution: the town swimming pool. Plus there is a whole Golden Age style architectural layout of an unusual building.

"The Price of Lead" (1952) also looks at civic life, this time the business aspects surrounding a church. It has a simple mystery, but hardly a full scale puzzle plot, and like "The Swimming Gala" is more notable for its well-developed social background.

"The Vacuum Cleaner" (1953) is another story more fun for its social background, than for its skimpy mystery elements. Here we get a look at house-cleaning in the British Isles. Mitchell rings comic changes on various elements of such cleaning, in transition to the electric vacuum cleaner.

Some of the tales might be dismissed as "failed whodunits": plots which look like whodunit mysteries, till their finales evade bringing home the crime to one of the suspects, instead settling for a well-known way of avoiding such a solution. It's too bad, because these stories have some decent story values up to that point. "Strangers Hall" (1950) has a decently described setting of an old English country house and surrounding landscape. It might interest fans of such country house stories, if they can overlook the dismal solution. And "The Falling Petals" (1952) imagines fairly well the relationships among a small troupe of acrobats.

R.C. Woodthorpe

R.C. Woodthorpe was an English writer of comic detective novels. B.A. Pike reports that Margery Allingham's artist-writer husband Philip Youngman Carter studied English under Woodthorpe, and that Woodthorpe helped Carter's early career.

Commentary on R.C. Woodthorpe:

Death in a Little Town

Death in a Little Town (1935) comes across as a second-rate imitation of Gladys Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders (1932). Both novels are set in tiny English villages full of eccentric characters. Both have scenes of the villagers in full scale revolt. Both feature eccentric, older woman sleuths who are formidable battle axes; both are professional women (Woodthorpe's Matilda Perks is a retired school teacher); both are ugly. However, Woodthorpe's characters lacks the energy of Mitchell's, or originality. They seem pointlessly depressed, and are depressing to read about.

Mystery. The mystery and detective aspects of Death in a Little Town are tenth-rate. It is one of those mysteries in which a bunch of characters are coincidentally hanging around the murder scene, complicating the crime. This makes any puzzle plot aspects be nil.

Politics. Death in a Little Town is most striking in its opening chapter, which shows the villagers revolting against a rich man who has fenced in a path. The sympathetically viewed villagers have a leader who has organized them, and who is now orchestrating "direct action". This term is associated with both some kinds of left wing labor movements, and Mussolini's Fascism. Death in a Little Town never makes its specific politics clear. "Direct action" also shows up in Robert Heinlein's famous science fiction story "The Roads Must Roll" (1940) - where it is not endorsed, but rather implicitly condemned. To be blunt, I find these political aspects of Death in a Little Town creepy. The leader compares the class conflict between the poor villagers and the rich man with World War I, terming it: "the other war . . . the war that goes on for ever . . . between those who have and those who haven't."

Woodthorpe's kind words for such jingoistic poets as Rudyard Kipling and the war-mongering John Masefield are also not encouraging (Chapter 5, Section 2). Nor is his support for corporal punishment in school (Chapter 4).

Architecture. Three of the main characters are associated with architecture or constructions. These are probably the most creative aspects of the novel. Although they have nothing to do with the mystery plot, they are examples of the Golden Age interest in architecture:

The killing is actually done with a garden spade: an example of the garden motif that runs through the book.

Influence?. Dictator's Way (1938) by E.R. Punshon also deals with a rich man who closes off a road, preventing public access.

Before either of these works, Death at Four Corners (1929) (Chapter 1) by Anthony Gilbert includes a right-of-way path on a country estate. No one is closing it off, however.

Shelley Smith

Shelley Smith wrote both detective stories, and novels of psychological suspense. Her suspense stories are probably better known than her pure detective fiction, today.

Commentary on Shelley Smith:

He Died of Murder!

He Died of Murder! (1947) is a detective novel, about a religious commune/monastery in rural England. It is a minor work, often depressing in its portrait of failed emotional relationships.

Society: Influence of Gladys Mitchell. The story telling aspects of He Died of Murder! recall Gladys Mitchell:

Race. The look back (Chapter 6) at the local Lord of the Manor in He Died of Murder!, and his vicious mistreatment of Africans, recalls the black character in Mitchell's The Saltmarsh Murders. Shelley Smith's commentary on race relations is unusually scathing and pointed, going beyond Mitchell, though.

While He Died of Murder! offers a progressive treatment of black people, it suffers from an anti-Semitic slur (also in Chapter 6).

Narrative Structure. J.J. Connington's The Case with Nine Solutions (1928), followed by early Gladys Mitchell novels like The Mystery of a Butcher Shop and The Saltmarsh Murders have an appendix or chapter at the end, setting forth the the sleuth's ideas leading up to the solution. These appendices are told by the sleuth in the first person, while the bulk of the novel is told in the third person. Shelley Smith follows the same structure in He Died of Murder!, with the sleuth narrating an Addendum, detailing his step by step reasoning that led him to the solution.

The Mitchell chapters are presented as excerpts from the notebooks of Mrs. Bradley, Mitchell's sleuth. Similarly, the Addendum in He Died of Murder! is depicted as the policeman detective's notes on the case.

The J.J. Connington and Mitchell notebooks contain entries from various dates throughout the duration of the case. Each shows the sleuth's understanding of the crime up to that time, and new ideas based on new clues that emerged on that date, as depicted in the main body of the novel. Shelley Smith uses a basically similar approach, with her detective outlining his step by step development of ideas over the time span of the novel.

Both Mitchell and Smith conceal their detective's thoughts through the course of the book, only revealing them in the solution at the end, and in these final notes which outline their reasoning over time. This is in contrast with Mitchell's popular contemporary Freeman Wills Crofts and his followers, who often have their sleuth's sharing all their ideas with the reader throughout the novel.

While the appendices in Gladys Mitchell novels are fairly schematic, with Notes in outline form, the Addendum of He Died of Murder! is told in full novelistic style.

Another difference: the Gladys Mitchell novels frequently change Point of View characters throughout the novel. By contrast, while He Died of Murder! is also mainly told in third person, everything is from the Point of View of its policeman sleuth.

Sleuth. The detective in He Died of Murder! is a Scotland Yard police Inspector, who has been called into the case. This resembles not Gladys Mitchell, but rather the Crofts School of British police detectives. Smith's Inspector Chaos is smooth, affable and a bit sneaky, like Freeman Wills Crofts' Inspector French, and many of the police sleuths of Crofts' followers in the Crofts School.

Impossible Crime. He Died of Murder! has an impossible crime plot. This plot is not-bad-at-all, and is the novel's best feature.

Oddly, the "impossible" nature of the crime is not much emphasized until the solution. This seems to me just bad storytelling. A key fact, that the shooting took place in close range - and yet no one was there, according to witnesses - is barely brought out. This hurts the clarity of the novel, and its impact as a clever impossible crime.

The presence of an impossible crime in He Died of Murder! is a break with Gladys Mitchell traditions: Mitchell rarely if ever used impossible crimes. According to Robert Adey's outstanding bibliography Locked Room Murders (1991), Mitchell wrote no impossible crimes, while He Died of Murder! is the only impossible crime credited to Shelley Smith. Similarly the invaluable continuation of Adey's book, Brian Skupin's Locked Room Murders, Supplement (2019), contains no entries for Gladys Mitchell or Shelley Smith. That means that no further locked room mysteries by either author, have been discovered since Adey's time.

SPOILER. The basic approach used in the crime's solution, recalls solutions used by The Coles. The details of the solution are Smith's own, however.

Josephine Bell

Josephine Bell was a British doctor, who wrote numerous mystery novels, often with medical backgrounds. She also wrote mainstream literature.

Bell's work shows the influence of several kinds of British Realist School authors, especially H.C. Bailey and R. Austin Freeman, with a bit of Freeman Wills Crofts as well. She is not a director imitator of any of these writers, but their influence as a whole on her work is powerful.

Commentary on Josephine Bell:

Dr. David Wintringham

One of Bell's major series sleuths is Dr. David Wintringham, a medical doctor. Dr. David Wintringham's medical profession recalls previous doctor-detectives as H.C. Bailey's sleuth Mr. Fortune and Freeman's medical expert Dr. Thorndyke. Like these men, Dr. David Wintringham combines medical knowledge with strong detectival ability. All three make vigorous investigations, and often explore avenues of inquiry overlooked by the police. Dr. David Wintringham especially resembles Mr. Fortune, in that both men work as active detectives in the field, traveling places and questioning witnesses.

Like Mr. Fortune, David Wintringham is happily married to a wonderful young woman, and scenes of domestic bliss and good-natured marital conversation dot both sleuth's cases. David Wintringham also resembles Mr. Fortune, in being a bright, cheerful man, given to friendly banter and an interest in the world around him. In some ways, David Wintringham is very much in the mode of Mr. Fortune, although he is toned down in personality. He is also more "typical", more "every day", and even a bit more "ordinary" and "realistic" in personality than the flamboyant Mr. Fortune. He also seems not as affluent, though he is mildly prosperous, and much less of a big shot. All of this is consistent with the tone of sober realism in Bell's books.

Dr. David Wintringham differs from his predecessors, in that he is mainly an amateur detective. Mr. Fortune is an official consultant to Scotland Yard; Dr. Thorndyke is frequently brought in as a paid consultant, by solicitors or insurance companies. By contrast, David Wintringham seems to "stumble over corpses" like other amateur sleuths. He gets teased about this in Fall Over Cliff (Chapter 14).

David Wintringham has a policeman friend, Inspector Steve Mitchell of Scotland Yard, with who he frequently works on his cases. This reflects a long tradition of amateur detectives before and since, who often work closely with a friendly policeman.

Gladys Mitchell began publishing mysteries in the 1920's, long before Bell introduced Inspector Mitchell. His name could be a tribute to Gladys Mitchell.

Death at the Medical Board

Death at the Medical Board (1944) is a Dr. David Wintringham case set in war-time England.

Death at the Medical Board is relentlessly grim. Bell apparently lacks any sense of humor or comedy. She also makes the most likable characters be the murder victims, adding to the sense of gloom.

There is a Dying Message, which is written in an unusual way (end of Chapter 2). The message itself is interpreted in fairly conventional ways. Dying Messages are not a favorite of the British Realist School.

As the title suggests, Death at the Medical Board has medical settings and characters, in the Realist School manner. Death at the Medical Board reflects many different Realist School authors and traditions (SPOILERS):

The Packet-Boat Murder: a short story

"The Packet-Boat Murder" is a Dr. David Wintringham short story. It suffers from problems: Good detection: Jill's idea about the ticket. This is a piece of what might be called "meta-detection": Jill figures out how the police must have done their detective work. This is reasoning about someone else's detective work.

SPOILERS. Dr. David Wintringham does a sound piece of medical detection, in determining the cause of death. The reader does have the clues to figure this out.

The boat setting recalls The Port of London Murders.

Policeman Steve Mitchell is a Superintendent by this time.

Fall Over Cliff

Fall Over Cliff (1938) is a who-done-it murder mystery, starring series sleuth Dr. David Wintringham.

The opening is decently done (Chapters 1-3). This covers the first murder and its beginning investigation. It gives a vivid, detailed look at the landscape of the crime. After this the book is much less interesting.

Links to The Port of London Murders. The opening of Fall Over Cliff (Chapters 1-3) anticipates The Port of London Murders. Both have:

Fall Over Cliff mainly lacks an important part of The Port of London Murders and "The Thimble River Mystery": boats. Instead, Fall Over Cliff includes swimmers and bathers on the beach.

Links to The Thimble River Mystery. Both the opening of Fall Over Cliff (Chapters 1-3) and "The Thimble River Mystery" have:

Color. The note is a vivid piece of color imagery (middle of Chapter 2, end of Chapter 3). Bell liked color images in her fiction. The novel itself points out the note's rich color (middle of Chapter 2). So, at least in this case, color was something Bell was consciously including in the tale.

Really bright color plays a role in "The Thimble River Mystery". The hero notes how showy the red-painted boat is. Once again Bell seems conscious of how rich and striking the color is.

Romance. David's wife Jill is much featured in the story. But she doesn't actually have much to do, other than some light romance with her husband. There are signs that the book regards this married romance as a moral ideal, something people can take as a role model: see Miss Kershaw's thoughts (middle of Chapter 5). The romance involves passion: the book plainly indicates that the couple is about to have sex (end of Chapter 4).

Development. An upper class woman, Miss Kershaw, is opposed to further development of this resort area. This recalls the anti-development views in "The Case of the Late Pig" (1937) by Margery Allingham. In both works, the idea is motivated by a desire to keep a resort area pleasant for the elite. Miss Kershaw has very negative ideas about the more ordinary people who visit the area (later parts of Chapter 1).

Racism?. A dog has been given a name which is a highly offensive racist term in the United States (Chapter 8). However, the term was reportedly seen as less offensive in 1930's England. Be that as it may, one would think Bell would have known about the U.S. attitude. Was she deliberately trying to promote racism? This is one of several Bell novels which have trouble with racism.

The Port of London Murders

The Port of London Murders (1938) is a thriller set in the dockside areas of London. It's unusual in including many working class characters and a working class neighborhood. The Port of London Murders has been reprinted in recent years, and is now likely Bell's most easily available book.

Politics. Unfortunately, there are troubles with the book's depiction of the working class.

A section featuring sympathetic Dr. Freeman asserts that nothing could be done to help his poor, sick patients (second section of Chapter 4). This is incredibly defeatist. If British society and the government had chosen to do so, a LOT more could have been done to help the poor.

The Port of London Murders implicitly states the alleged cause of poverty in Britain. Working class people who work at jobs are doing all right, such as the Harvey and Reed families. By contrast, working class families who are poor, are poor because the men are too lazy to work: see Mr. Pope and Mr. Dunwoody. This is a big distortion of the sufferings of the working class during the Depression.

Racism?. Max Holman is a major character throughout the novel. He's a key part of the book's very vicious criminal gang. No racial background is explicitly assigned to Max Holman. But he has characteristics of Jewish stereotypes found in the era, and in another book by Josephine Bell.

Curtis Evans discusses anti-semitism in one of Bell's other mysteries, at his blog The Passing Tramp. What he says there about The China Roundabout (1956) can perhaps be applied to The Port of London Murders too. An unsympathetic Jewish man in The China Roundabout is a catalogue of anti-semitic stereotypes: he has "a well-fed figure", "three rings", "His blue-black hair was carefully oiled." He has a mistress. In The Port of London Murders (Chapter 1) Max Holman is described as having a "fat short hand", a "diamond-studded ring", hair that is "shining black" (presumably shining because it is oiled). He has a mistress.

A Jewish woman in The China Roundabout has "dark eyes" that "flash" unpleasantly. So does Max Holman (Chapter 11).

Positive Features. Honesty compels me to admit the book has positive features too:

These positive aspects in no way justify the book's problems. The book cannot be recommended.

Detection. The standard description of The Port of London Murders as a thriller, is accurate. But it does have many passages of straightforward detection, that could have come out of any traditional mystery novel. The book has to be considered as a detective-mystery novel, as much as it is a thriller.

For example, midway in the book (Chapter 6). we see first police doctor Dr. Freeman then police Sergeant Chandler investigating the tale's events.

Dr. Freeman reaches his conclusion at the end of his investigation, by looking at multiple pieces of evidence.

In a time-honored tradition in mystery fiction, new, unexpected facts emerge, when Sergeant Chandler questions witnesses. Bell handles this emergence of new facts well, making it plausible and logical that these new facts emerge from the conversation.

Sergeant Chandler is male, while the witnesses with new facts are female and working class. Both of these witnesses obtained these facts while they were working. These two witnesses were also chief sources of information for Dr. Freeman.

Sergeant Chandler concludes this episode (last part of Chapter 6) by evolving various theories, and looking at them pro and con. This recalls earlier passages in Freeman Wills Crofts where Crofts' detective Inspector French develops theories. Bell makes the step-by-step development of Sergeant Chandler's ideas logical and natural. Just like she made the emergence of facts from witnesses logical and natural.

Detection: Amateur Sleuths. Jim is a minor crook, not a cop or doctor. But his crooked investigation into the box is structured like a detection episode. He explores the box, and does things to figure out what is going on (end of Chapter 4).

Young Leslie also does some good detection.

Inspector Mitchell. The Port of London Murders has been described as a "non-series mystery", probably because it doesn't contain Bell's main series sleuth Dr. David Wintringham. But The Port of London Murders does contain Inspector Mitchell of Scotland Yard, who enters the tale almost exactly halfway through the novel (Chapter 8). I'm guessing this is the same man as Inspector Steve Mitchell of Scotland Yard in the Wintringham books. It is not unheard of for policeman supporting characters to get their own solo outing:

Architecture. The kitchen has the unusual architecture often featured in Golden Age mysteries (first part of Chapter 3).

Even the office building where Max Holman works, gets its architecture set forth in detail (Chapter 1). The architecture is not unusual.

The proposed new flats are also a nice architectural touch (middle of Chapter 5).

Color. The pink nightgowns make an unexpected show of color (end of Chapter 4, second half of Chapter 5).

The sophisticated woman's clothing shop "Lulu" has everything from decor to window display to bags in gray-green (Chapter 5).

Boat Safety. The Port of London Murders shows a number of catastrophes and near catastrophes, involving boats on the water in the Port. But it doesn't much describe rules, regulations or standard processes that would promote safety. It apparently suggests that boat pilots just steered their craft helter skelter through the water, hoping to avoid accidents. And that the skill of a pilot or boat captain is the only thing that can prevent problems. I find this amazing, and barely believable.

Names. The name of police doctor Dr. Freeman might be a tribute to such British mystery writers as R. Austin Freeman or Freeman Wills Crofts. Both were well-known in 1938.

By contrast, it is possible but unlikely that police Sergeant Chandler is a tribute to Raymond Chandler. Chandler still hadn't published his first crime novel The Big Sleep (1939). Chandler had quite a few stories in American pulp magazines by this time, though. And such magazines were for sale in Britain.

The name "Lulu" today evokes the Lulu plays about a sexy femme fatale Lulu, by Frank Wedekind. Whether this reference was intended in a 1938 British novel is unclear.

The Thimble River Mystery: a short story

"The Thimble River Mystery" is a Dr. David Wintringham short story. It is a full puzzle-plot murder mystery.

"The Thimble River Mystery" is reprinted in the anthology Deep Waters: Mysteries on the Waves (2019) edited by Martin Edwards.

Quality. "The Thimble River Mystery" is one of those middling works that is hard to judge. It has some decent storytelling. And a mildly interesting look at a river region full of yachts. However the mystery puzzle is simple, and the tale is far from classic.

On the positive side, short stories like "The Thimble River Mystery" and "A Torch at the Window" are chances to see an accomplished aspect of Bell's writing: her use of landscape and/or architecture. Both also show a Technical Britain that is more cutting edge than tales of country house parties.

Links to The Port of London Murders. Although they share no characters or specific locales, "The Thimble River Mystery" is closely aligned to The Port of London Murders. Both have:

However, there are differences. Things the much-shorter "The Thimble River Mystery" lacks which The Port of London Murders has:

Mystery Plot. SPOILERS. The solution depends entirely on a technical fact about boating. I know little about boats, and nothing about this fact. Actually, I still don't understand the technicalities.

However, I do think it is fair for a story like "The Thimble River Mystery" to depend on a technical fact. As long as it is accurate.

"The Thimble River Mystery" does indeed mention this clue in the body of the story, long before the ending. So "The Thimble River Mystery" is "fair play".

A Torch at the Window: a short story

"A Torch at the Window" (1960) is a mystery set at a hospital. We learn something about hospital routine and administration. This is entertaining, and shows a welcome sense of humor.

But the biggest emphasis in on the architecture and landscape of the hospital grounds. This is inventive and delightfully detailed. As is common in traditional mystery fiction, the plot of the story is thoroughly grounded in the architecture and landscape.

"A Torch at the Window" is a full-fledged who-done-it mystery.

The story recalls Mary Roberts Rinehart and her follower Mignon G. Eberhart, in looking at nurses on night duty at a hospital, and spooky events that erupt. Eberhart likes red or green lights in her hospitals. "A Torch at the Window" has a blue light. This is another example of Bell's fondness for color imagery.

"A Torch at the Window" was re-discovered by the expert mystery historian Tony Medawar, and reprinted in his anthology Bodies from the Library 3 (2020).

Elizabeth Ferrars / E.X. Ferrars

The mystery and suspense writer is known as Elizabeth Ferrars in Britain and E.X. Ferrars in the United States.

Commentary on E.X. Ferrars:

The Casebook of Jonas P. Jonas

The Casebook of Jonas P. Jonas and Other Mysteries includes six short tales about genteel private eye Jonas P. Jonas. Jonas is one of those lower middle class, two-bit, non-violent private eyes who run through British mystery fiction. They have the personalities and social status of British tradesmen. They bear little resemblance to the tough shamuses of American hard-boiled fiction. Some are quite honest and industrious, like Jonas P. Jonas.

The six Jonas tales are uneven as mysteries. But they are so short, and so connected in spirit, that most people will want to read them as a group.

Blue Bowl. Considered as a mystery, the best Jonas work is "The Case of the Blue Bowl" (1958). This develops a full puzzle plot murder mystery, with a surprising solution. It also asks an intriguing background question, about birds.

"The Case of the Blue Bowl" is overflowing with mystery plot, something good in a work at any length, but amazing in a four page story. In addition to the main murder mystery, there are two other mystery subplots, each given a sound answer. The answers are grounded in facts we have learned earlier in the tale. SPOILERS. These mystery subplots are "where is the woman's money hidden?" and "why is the nephew visiting his aunt?. The solutions of these subplots are linked.

The front door and back door of the cottage, give the tale a bit of architectural interest.

The cover of the paperback is an illustration of this story.

Two Questions. "The Case of the Two Questions" (1958) is a unified mystery without subplots.

The mystery is based in a fairly elaborate landscape: something popular in traditional mystery fiction.

Invitation to Murder. "Invitation to Murder - On the Party Line" (1958) begins with a premise taken from the opening of a famous radio thriller, Sorry, Wrong Number (1943) by Lucille Fletcher. But then Ferrars takes the story in a very different direction from Fletcher's work. Among other things, Ferrars treats the premise as a mystery puzzle that has to be solved. Ferrars' work is clever as a mystery plot. And full of good storytelling.

As in "The Case of the Two Questions", we get a landscape made up of a few houses on a rural road.

Auction Catalogue. "The Case of the Auction Catalogue" (1958) takes place on that favorite setting, a train.

Like "The Case of the Blue Bowl" and "A Lipstick Smear Points to the Killer", the detective work centers on reconstructing events from clues at a crime scene.

Left Hand. "The Case of the Left Hand" (1958) lets the reader follow along while the hero does detective work. This detective work is rich in detail, as well as being sound in approach. This makes for an enjoyable story.

However, while the sleuth is investigating a mystery, the reader does not get the determining clue before the solution. So the reader is unable to solve the mystery ahead of the detective. In other words, the tale is not a "fair play" mystery puzzle.

Look for Trouble. "Look for Trouble" (1964) is a very short story, like the Jonas tales. And like many of them, it is a full-fledged mystery. It takes a standard crime idea in many thrillers, and turns it into a mystery puzzle. This puzzle's solution is unique to Ferrars.

The whole process is a bit similar to "Invitation to Murder - On the Party Line", which took a famous thriller premise, and turned it into a mystery.

Anthony Wynne

Commentary on Anthony Wynne: The major histories of locked room fiction published by Locked Room International have material on Wynne:

Sinners Go Secretly: Short Stories

Sinners Go Secretly (collected 1927) is a short story collection, focusing on series sleuth Dr. Eustace Hailey. The tales were published in magazines in 1926 and 1927. Even more Hailey short stories, mainly from 1924 and 1925, are uncollected. There could be some gems among them. There seem to be at least 20 such uncollected tales.

I liked 6 of the 12 stories in Sinners Go Secretly. Three of these six are readily available in anthologies: "The Cyprian Bees" (a famous tale), "Footsteps", and "The Dancing Girl". The other three good stories are only to be found in Sinners Go Secretly: "The Telephone Man", "The Jewels of Yvonne", "Prudence and the Marquis". Maybe one should include "The Black Kitten" among the good stories too. Medium-quality works like it are always hard to judge.

Sleuth. Dr. Eustace Hailey is a top physician specializing in mental illness. He spends a lot of time investigating and thinking about his patients' emotional problems. He is quick to make assertions about what the tale's characters are experiencing. And what their personalities and values are like. These thoughts are at the core of much of the characterization in the stories.

I often find myself disagreeing with Dr. Hailey's specific comments on psychology. But I think the technique of Hailey talking about the suspects' emotional psychology, is a good device for characterization.

Dr. Eustace Hailey is shown reading a book by Freud, in "The Gold of Tso-Fu" (1926). However, the tales do not seem especially Freudian or psychoanalytic. But I have little knowledge of Freudian psychology, and maybe I'm missing things.

Sinners Go Secretly regularly shows Dr. Hailey at his two kinds of work, psychology and detection. His approaches to both kinds of work are well-characterized. On the other hand, we learn almost nothing about Hailey's personal life or background. This whole focus is fairly common in mysteries with Golden Age sleuths: a rich look at them at work as detectives, combined with little about their personal lives.

Series Characters. Dr. Eustace Hailey sometimes works with his Scotland Yard contact Inspector Biles. Biles is good at conventional aspects of police work. But according to "The Cyprian Bees" has little knowledge of human psychology: Dr. Hailey's specialty.

In "The Jewels of Yvonne" Dr. Hailey visits Paris, and works with a French police contact of Biles, Marton of the Sûreté. This is the only appearance of Marton in Sinners Go Secretly. One wonders if Marton shows up in any other Wynne work. Marton reminds one of the foreign policemen who sometimes work with Mr. Fortune in H.C. Bailey.

Jenkins, Dr. Hailey's butler, is another series regular. Jenkins is subdued and rarely does more than announce visitors. He is "correct", but has little apparent personality. He is one of the least colorful "servants of the sleuth hero" in Golden Age fiction. I like Jenkins. But can tell you almost nothing about him. At least in Sinners Go Secretly, he does NOT get involved in Hailey's detective work as an assistant sleuth.

Pulp Fiction. Many of the short stories in Sinners Go Secretly appeared in the American pulp magazine known as Flynn's Weekly Detective Fiction or Flynn's. Around the same time they were also published in British magazines. The stories' dramatic events and occasional mild violence would have been welcomed in U.S. pulps.

The appearance of the stories in Flynn's means that Sinners Go Secretly is a work of Pulp Fiction. (By definition Pulp Fiction is fiction that appeared in pulp magazines, which were magazines printed on cheap wood pulp paper.) Many people today think of Pulp Fiction exclusively in terms of tough private eye stories. Private Eyes are certainly a key part of Pulp Fiction. But a hugely varied amount of other mysteries also appeared in the pulp magazines. Sinners Go Secretly is a good reminder of this.

Genre. Sinners Go Secretly is a collection of mixed genre:

Also, some of the tales have elements of romantic soap opera, in addition to their mystery or thriller elements. This material is at its grimmest and least interesting in "Hearts Are Trumps" (1926). "Hearts Are Trumps" is conventional Popular Fiction at its worst. It has no crime elements. It suffers from anti-medical-technology ideas that are wrong-headed.

Romantic soap opera also afflicts medium-quality works like "The Black Kitten" (1927). "The Black Kitten" takes place in Northumberland, also the setting of The Mystery of the Ashes (1927). "The Black Kitten" depicts the landscapes there as dramatic and unique. The opening of "The Black Kitten", showing Dr. Hailey making a trip by train to the sinister country house there, recalls Watson's trip to Baskerville Hall in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901-1902) (Chapter 6) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Racism. Two of the twelve tales in Sinners Go Secretly are racist: "The Tinkle of the Bells" and "The Gold of Tso-Fu". The other ten are racism-free and harmless.

Good Tales. "The Telephone Man" (1927) is brilliantly surreal. Its plot is full of unexpected events. It shows the Golden Age interest in architecture. BIG SPOILERS. The surreal discovery of a mirror in an unexpected area, anticipates a similarly surreal discovery of a mirror in Murder in Thin Air (first part of Chapter 7). These mirror discoveries are among the best parts of both "The Telephone Man" and Murder in Thin Air. Both discoveries are made by Dr. Hailey, while he conducts a solitary investigation.

"Footsteps" (1926) and "The Gold of Tso-Fu" (1926) are the main impossible crime tales in the book. "Footsteps" is original and creative.

"Footsteps" has an unusual structure for a mystery:

  1. An impossible crime. This is solved by the detective almost immediately.
  2. Complex, mysterious events in the characters' lives. These events make little sense at first. The events are given a good explanation at the end of the story.
However odd, this two-part structure works well.

Unfortunately "The Gold of Tso-Fu" uses a standard gimmick to cause its impossible murder. The best part of "The Gold of Tso-Fu": the opening description of a series of rooms. The rooms are decorated in an opulent style, utterly baroque. They approach the surreal.

"The Jewels of Yvonne" (1927) opens with policeman Marton propounding an unusual mystery. This mystery does not involve crime. Its premise is original, off-trail, and inventive. Then, halfway through the tale, we get the solution to the mystery: which is also imaginative. This mystery-and-solution is the main thing good about "The Jewels of Yvonne".

"The Jewels of Yvonne" was published immediately before "Prudence and the Marquis". Both are mysteries that involve jewels. Neither has an actual murder. "Prudence and the Marquis" is atypical of Sinners Go Secretly in that it attempts humor. The opening of "The Black Kitten" has some nice comedy too.

The Room with the Iron Shutters

The Room with the Iron Shutters (1929) is a minor impossible crime novel. Its locked room idea derives directly from Israel Zangwill's The Big Bow Mystery (1891), so it is hardly a landmark in the genre.

More creative are some of the medical mystery ideas. Wynne seems to have invented new medical conditions, as well as new drugs to treat them, and woven this into his plot and solution. This concern with new, imaginary medical drugs with strange properties also pops up in other Bailey school writers, such as J.J. Connington. I am of two minds about all this. On the one hand, Wynne's plot has a certain satisfying symmetry and ingenuity, in dealing with these imaginary chemicals and their effects. On the other, it seems like a complete violation of fair play. There is no way that any reader could have predicted such new substances or their effect. So the solution of the mystery seems to be arbitrarily made up. A mystery writer could "explain" just about anything by making up some imaginary medical syndrome out of whole cloth. A tale like this in fact approaches science fiction. A better writer might have carefully explained the syndrome during the exposition, thus playing fairer with the reader.

Readers can experience most of Wynne's plot by reading the opening, Chapters 1-5, and the solution, Chapters 25-29.

Murder of a Lady

Murder of a Lady (1931) is a minor impossible crime novel: On the positive side is the subplot about the "silver scale". The explanation of its mysterious presence is ingenious. And the explanation offers a good clue to the central murder mystery.

Murder of a Lady is set in Wynne's native Scotland. So are "Footsteps", "Hearts Are Trumps", Murder in Thin Air.

Murder in Thin Air

Impossible Crime. Murder in Thin Air (1936?) is an impossible crime novel with Dr. Hailey. The impossible crime has a botched solution - which makes this a failed book.

Before I wrote this review, Ronald Smyth published an (accurate) review at Golden Age of Detection Wiki. His main points: "This book has a wonderful premise." BUT: "the solution is simply a ridiculous piece of twaddle." My review here will offer a similar analysis.

The impossible crime has an intriguing set-up (Chapters 1, 3, 4, 7). And the solution reveals a "hidden scheme", that is also likable (Chapter 28). Both of these show some imagination.

The impossible crime consists of two parts (solutions given at the end of Chapter 28):

  1. The beginning of the impossible crime. This gets a simple but sound and plausible solution.
  2. The end of the impossible crime. This has a failed solution that is unbelievable. And therefore unfair. This sinks the whole mystery plot of the book. Especially dubious: the airplane flight was monitored by Rosper and Anderson, experts from the British Government's Air Ministry. It is impossible to believe both men would notice nothing.

Political Background. Like many thrillers then and now, Murder in Thin Air has a plot grounded in world politics and technology. In Murder in Thin Air these involve wheat markets and future air warfare. None of this material has anything to do with the impossible crime plot, other than providing an airplane setting and a motive for the villain. Wynne also uses these ideas to provide motivation for a labored thriller plot, also not much connected to the impossible crime.

Murder in Thin Air offers some detail on both wheat markets and future air warfare. This detail makes for OK storytelling. But I didn't find it gripping either.

Publication Date. I've seen dates on the Internet of both 1932 and 1936 for Murder in Thin Air. I've examined a copy of a U.S. edition published by Lippincott. It has no date. But the list of books by Wynne at the start, shows Wynne books published up through 1935. This strongly suggests this edition was published in 1936. Of course, this could be either the same or different from the original year of publication.

Sutherland Scott

Sutherland Scott was a British mystery novelist. He also wrote a critical book on mystery fiction: Blood in Their Ink; the march of the modern mystery novel (1953).

Sutherland Scott's main series detective is Dr. Septimus Dodds. His assistant, narrator and Watson is "Sandy" Stacey. The two run a firm, which collects fees for detective work. They also frequently assist Scotland Yard, and their friend their Detective-Inspector Brown.

Commentary on Sutherland Scott:

Deeck points out the lurid purple prose that runs through Scott's fiction.

Mystery Traditions

There are links between Sutherland Scott's work and the H.C. Bailey tradition: Scott also recalls the American Van Dine School: Sutherland Scott might actually be closer to the Van Dine tradition, than he is to H.C. Bailey.

Crazy Murder Show

Crazy Murder Show (1937) is apparently the only Sutherland Scott mystery novel published in the United States, during the Golden Age.

Bigotry. Crazy Murder Show has many problems. It cannot be recommended. It is especially flawed in how it treats social groups:

Mystery Plot. BIG SPOILER. The plot of Crazy Murder Show is a rip-off of Ellery Queen's The American Gun Mystery (1933).

SPOILER. The mystery plot is utterly implausible: many people at the theater would have immediately recognized what is going on. This makes the mystery plot be a "cheat". After reading the opening sections of Crazy Murder Show I wondered about the central idea of this solution: but dismissed it as impossible in the context of the story. Then it turned up at the end, as the solution of the mystery!

One positive of the mystery in Crazy Murder Show: there is good cluing towards the solution. The treatment of the corpse, and the clue about vaseline, are sound ideas (explained during the solution in Chapter 23). Also good are the clues embedded in the Assistant Manager Brandon Sherwood's final statement (Chapter 21, explained during the solution in Chapter 23). All of these clues are original to Scott, and not borrowed from Ellery Queen.

Floor Plans. A strange note: the two floor plans don't seem to be consistent with each other, showing the arrangement of the rooms. This sort of Quality Control problem is rare in Golden Age novels and their floor plans.

Detectives. Unusually, when Inspector Brown gets sick, Scotland Yard asks Dodds to take over the investigation! It is hard to imagine in real life, that the Yard or any other police organization would have a non-police outsider put in charge. This development is apparently unique in Crazy Murder Show: I have never seen it in any other novel. It's a fun idea, but Crazy Murder Show doesn't do to much with it. The book does not recognize anything odd or humorous about the situation, for instance.

Fiona Sinclair

Fiona Sinclair was a British mystery novelist of the 1960's. She is not to be confused with other writers with the same name.

But the Patient Died

But the Patient Died (1962) is a hospital mystery. It is a fairly minor book. It is at its best in the opening which sets up the plot and characters (Chapters 1, 2), and in some early detective work (Chapters 6, 8, 11).

But the Patient Died is not a full-fledged work of the Bailey tradition. But its subject matter does recall some Bailey school traditions (SPOILERS):

There are also aspects that recall the Realist School as a whole, especially Freeman Wills Crofts: Grainger is more educated than Crofts' Inspector French: Grainger has a degree in philosophy from Oxford. Grainger has no problem getting along with mildly upper class types, like the Dean of the hospital, who turns old to be an Old School chum. Otherwise, Grainger's background and education don't really seem to affect how he does his work. His activities are identical to countless other Scotland Yard investigators of the Crofts tradition.

There is much medical soap opera in But the Patient Died, both about medical crises and the doctors' personal lives. Most of this is pretty conventional and uninteresting. Unfortunately, Sinclair doesn't explain very well how British hospitals of the era worked. Much is made about some characters being "registrars" and others "housemen", for example, without those terms ever being defined. But the Patient Died is thus less explanatory than many other books with Backgrounds, which more typically aim to inform readers about some institution.

Despite its hospital setting, there is not a lot of medical detection or scientific detection in But the Patient Died. The best medical detection occurs after the autopsy, when the doctors try to figure out the cause of death (Chapter 8).

The most original mystery plot ideas in But the Patient Died concern not the murder, but the victim's motives and actions (Chapters 6, 11). The change-of-setting visit to the victim's house (Chapter 11) is quite the most lively detective work section of the novel.

Glyn Carr

Glyn Carr wrote numerous detective novels with a mountain climbing background. Many of Glyn Carr's novels were available as reprints from Rue Morgue Press.

Commentary on Glyn Carr:

Glyn Carr and the Bailey School

Glyn Carr's detectives recall H.C. Bailey traditions: At first glance, Lewker look like an amateur sleuth working with the police, like S.S. Van Dine's Philo Vance or Ellery Queen. But, though Lewker is now a civilian without official standing, he used to be a government Intelligence official during the war. It was then that he developed his ties with the police. While he is not now an active government official in the mode of Bailey's Mr. Fortune, he is not really a full amateur, either.

H.C. Bailey's "The Hazel Ice" (1927) is an early mystery with a mountain climbing background.

Links to Lament for a Maker

Glyn Carr perhaps also shows the influence of Michael Innes' Lament for a Maker (1938). Lament for a Maker shows characters "climbing" a British mountain by simply walking up it, as in Carr to come.

Lament for a Maker is full of literary quotations, also like Carr. Such quotations are common in many Golden Age British mystery writers.

The Youth Hostel Murders

Glyn Carr's The Youth Hostel Murders (1952) contains some not bad landscape writing in its opening (Chapters 1-3, 5), showing a mountainous region of Britain and its inhabitants. This section also describes a British Youth Hostel of the era, something I had known little about. The opening makes a decent point about why an "accidental" death really has to be a murder. But little of the rest of the book has much substance. As a whole, this is a minor and often gloomy novel.

Death Under Snowdon

Death Under Snowdon (1952) shares subject matter, broadly speaking, with H.C. Bailey novels: In its murder method, Death Under Snowdon relates to the Scientific Detective tradition. The initial murder is plainly caused by some technical means, whose details are not immediately clear, but whose overall approach is not in doubt (Chapter 5). Fairly soon, the sleuths develop full technical explanations for the crime (Chapters 6, 11). These technical details are interesting. Death Under Snowdon has no Impossible Crime features. The killing always looks possible, and the reader is immediately clear in general, high level terms as to how it was done.

Death Under Snowdon also has a non-technical puzzle, relating to the identity of the killer and the overall structure of the events. This plot is a full mystery puzzle. Unfortunately, it seems none too original. For example, Anthony Boucher's The Case of the Solid Key (1941) has a broadly similar choice of killer.

I'm not a mountain climber, and somehow naively expected that a mountain-climbing novel would be full of scenes of knotting climbing ropes, special picks and technical gear. Instead, the mountain climbing scenes in Death Under Snowdon mainly show people doing simple hiking: people walking around Mt. Snowdon. Carr's emphasis is on the geography, geology and scenery of this beautiful mountain, as seen by people walking up and down it (Chapter 4).

Death Under Snowdon is politically interesting, when it examines issues of Energy and the Environment. It shows that issues facing 1952 Britain are still relevant in today's society: maybe even more so! Death Under Snowdon is less convincing when looking at Labour vs. Tories. Were Labour MP's in 1952 really hopeless vulgarians with bad table manners? One doubts it!

Death Under Snowdon is best in its opening section (Chapters 1-7; 11) The book then runs out of steam. It is only mildly interesting as a murder mystery. And the best looks at Mt. Snowdon and the technical details of the murder, all come early in the book.

Ruth Rendell

The contemporary British writer Ruth Rendell shows some signs of affinity with the Bailey - Allingham tradition. There is an interest in morbid psychology in her work. There is the alternation between suspense, and the traditional puzzle plot. There is the emphasis on married or other long term male-female couples, both among her detectives and her suspects. And there are medically based crimes - Rendell is especially interested in poisons and toxicology. A story like "Means of Evil" recalls Allingham's interest in such things in the finale of Death of a Ghost. Also, the vaguely countercultural menages examined in stories like "Means of Evil" recall Bailey's interest in such groups in such 1920's stories as "The Violet Farm". In both writers, there is a suggestion that people who engage in slightly unconventional lifestyles - in Rendell's case a bunch of 1970's health food faddists - are setting themselves up for an unwholesome situation, one that can lead to psychological aberration, and then to murder. One can see cross currents of psychological tension between members of the group in Rendell; a similar approach appeared in Bailey.