Friday's Forgotten Book: The Shakespeare Murders by A.G. MacDonell

Archibald Gordon Macdonell (1895 – 1941) was a versatile writer. His most famous book was England, Their England (1933), for which he is remembered today. Its description of England between the wars, especially of a village cricket match, is considered a classic representation of English humor. He also wrote stage reviews, a historical study of Napoleon, comical plays, fiction, and six largely forgotten mysteries published under the name of Neil Gordon. See The New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, volume 4, page 643, for a complete list of his works.

The Shakespeare Murders (Henry Holt, 1933) is one of the forgotten mysteries. It was popular enough at the time to be the basis of two movies, The Third Clue, released in 1934, and The Claydon Treasure Mystery, 1938. It’s very much a story of the 1930s. Peter Kerrigan is the leading sleuth. Kerrigan is a chatty gentleman adventurer with a fuzzy understanding of the boundary between what is legal and what is not, similar to a personable Simon Templar.

Kerrigan sees a pickpocket expertly extract a wallet from an abstracted gentleman walking down the street and on impulse steals the wallet back and follows the owner to return it. The owner is anxious about his brother, and Kerrigan has nothing better to do just then than to follow up on the missing brother. It turns out the brother has disappeared from his librarian job at Marsh Manor, cataloging the extensive collection for Lord Claydon, who lived quietly outside the rural town of Bicester. When Kerrigan arrives at Marsh Manor, he meets Inspector Fleming, whom he previously encountered in Murder in Earl’s Court (1931). Fleming is there to investigate the death of the librarian who replaced the vanished brother.

Kerrigan invites himself in to meet Lord Claydon, his daughter, her fiancé, his daughter’s friend, an art expert hired to appraise the paintings in the house, and a couple of gentlemen whom Kerrigan can’t quite figure out. He soon learns that a previous Lord Claydon was believed to have hidden a treasure of some kind in the house and the family is anxious to locate it. They believe the murdered librarian had found some clue to its whereabouts. Kerrigan’s elastic morality encourages him to look for it.

There follows a Keystone Kop sort of assault in the library late one night, which would have been amusing if it had not resulted in another murder. Inspector Fleming was on-site but unable to stop the second killing. Thugs from America who are associates of a known criminal show up, also expressing interest in the treasure. In the meantime, Lord Claydon’s aunt, an outspoken lady, arrives and she teams up with Kerrigan.

The story careens back and forth between frivolity and thuggery with a marginally reasonable solution.

Review based on the electronic version at Cover from the Fonthill Media 2015 reprint.

Friday's Forgotten Book: The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901–1957) was an English theatre producer and director who wrote more than 35 novels, 30 of which were crime fiction published under the pseudonym John Bude. The rest were released under his name. Writing as John Bude, most of the mysteries were led by Inspector William Meredith. The first two Merediths appeared in 1935 and 1936, The Lake District Murder and The Sussex Downs Murder. They have been reprinted by the British Library. Two other crime novels featured Inspector Green and two more featured Inspector Sherwood. He also wrote some stand-alone mysteries, the first of which was The Cornish Coast Murder (Skeffington, 1935).

The Reverend Dodd, Vicar of St. Michael’s-on-the-Cliff, and Dr. Dodd, of the village Boscawen in Cornwall, meet every Monday for dinner and to divvy up the books received from the lending library at Greystoke. They each take three and then exchange them midweek, shipping them back over the next weekend and submitting a new list of requests. They were reviewing this week’s delivery–an Edgar Wallace, an Agatha Christie, a J.S. Fletcher, a Farjeon, a Freeman Wills-Croft, and a Dorothy L. Sayers—when the telephone urgently summons the doctor to the home of Julius Tregarthan, who his niece reports as having been murdered.

While Tregarthan was a Parish Councillor, a church-goer, president of local clubs, a justice of the peace on the Greystoke Bench, and a generous patron of local charities, he was also subject to frequent bouts of ill temper, and he was generally disliked by those who knew him. He and his niece were known to be at odds over her relationship with a man new to the village, who moved in a few years previously and who was engaged in writing a novel. Tregarthan was thought to deal with his tenants unfairly and had been harsh with those brought up before him on charges while he was acting as JP. In addition, his housekeeper had seen him arguing with someone she did not recognize in the garden before dinner. In short, there is any number of possible suspects for Inspector Bigswell’s consideration.

The vicar is delighted to have a real-life mystery to use his deductive skills on and he involves himself as much as the inspector allows. The identification of a culprit brings him to a halt, realizing that a fictional mystery is quite different from a real-life mystery in which he knows all of the players.

Bude’s writing style is pleasant but not dramatic, especially in its evocative description of Cornwall. The book is unhurried while its momentum does not flag in its execution of the plot. I will be reading more of his work.

This review is based on the ebook version available at

Friday's Forgotten Book: There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes

There Came Both Mist and Snow by Michael Innes (Victor Gollancz, 1940) is the sixth mystery with Inspector John Appleby, who doesn’t appear in this mannered story of an upper class family until almost midway. The tale is told from the perspective of Arthur Ferryman, a successful novelist, who loves Belrive Priory, the family estate in northern England, more than anyone else. 

Christmas is approaching and the family converges on Belrive, a gorgeous property with a mansion, large park, and medieval ruins. The rest of the visiting family is banker Wilfred, headmaster Cecil, father and son portrait painters Hubert and Geoffrey, mystery writer Lucy, and poetry reviewer Anne. The exquisite setting is marred, however, by a cotton mill on one side, a busy highway on another, and a brewery on another. The night view, which should be moonlit or nearly completely dark, is instead one of an enormous animated electrical sign that advertises the brewery’s wares.

In addition to these changes around the estate, Arthur is alarmed to find upon his arrival that his cousin Basil, the seventh Baronet of Belrive Priory, has built a shooting range on the grounds and that all of the family has armed themselves with pistols to try it out. Most of them have no experience with guns and little skill, resulting in shots that go wildly astray.

An even greater cause for dismay is learning that cousin Basil intends to sell the priory to the brewer in order to fund an expedition to the Antarctic. The gathering was largely to tell the family of his decision and to celebrate one last Christmas in the mansion. It also marked the event of Basil and his nephew Wilfrid speaking for the first time in more than 10 years. No one knows the cause of their original disagreement and no one seems likely to find out now.

The family is scattered throughout the house and grounds during the hour before dinner, i.e., no one has an alibi, when Wilfrid is shot in Basil’s study. The discovery is made just before Inspector Appleby presents himself as an invited dinner guest. The local police are delighted to hand the problem off to a representative of Scotland Yard, not wanting to arrest a member of the prominent family.

Appleby wonders if Wilfrid was mistakenly shot instead of Basil. The entire family treats each other with faint malice and a case can be made for the shooting of either Basil or Wilfrid by one family member or another. Appleby worries about Basil’s safety until a culprit can be identified.

A classic drawing room gathering of all the suspects takes place with the case against each of them outlined. The actual resolution however strains credulity. An interesting read but not one of Appleby’s strongest cases.

My Favorite Books of 2019

After some effort I managed to sort my reading in 2019 enough to identify 20 books that I really liked. Some of them reflect my renewed interest in Golden Age authors. In alphabetical order by the author’s last name, here they are.

The Shameless by Ace Atkins, 2019 – A cold case grabs Quinn Colson’s attention in Tibbelah County, Mississippi, where he continues to fight the local crime syndicate and resist the pressure of the backcountry politicians. The latest in an excellent series, part police procedural, part Southern noir.

Wolf Pack by C.J. Box, 2019 – The nineteenth book about Joe Pickett, game warden in Wyoming, where someone is herding wildlife with drones, causing stampedes and unnecessary injuries. He teams up with a female game warden, one of the few in the state, to track the malefactors down. Near the end the book gallops headlong into uncontrolled and unexpected violence. Publishers Weekly starred review.

Fogland Point by Doug Burgess, 2018 – An unusual story about a death that could be an accident or it might be a homicide, against a background of family and long-time loyalties in a small town. The whipped cream here is a poltergeist who does housework. This book should have received more attention from critics and readers. Starred review from Publishers Weekly.

The Emperor’s Snuffbox by John Dickson Carr, 1942 – None of the locked room puzzles for which Carr is justly famous but nonetheless a dazzling display of plotting expertise with the clues plainly visible for the reader, if the reader can find them. Possibly the tightest plot I can remember. A fine, fine mystery.

The Defense by Steve Cavanagh, 2016 – The first book about Eddie Flynn, former conman, former lawyer, and recovering alcoholic. To stave off a threat to his family, Eddie resurrects all of his rusty swindler’s tricks and calls on the people he knew in his other life for help, including his childhood friend, now the head of a Mafia crime family. An original and appealing character and an excellent plot. Publishers Weekly starred review.

A Bitter Feast by Deborah Crombie, 2019 – Book 18 about Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid, Scotland Yard detectives, who visit the Cotswolds for what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend in the gorgeous countryside. Instead, a car accident and two fatalities complicate their lives and the small village’s. A series this old could be expected to lapse a bit but each entry is as good as the previous ones. Booklist starred review.

Wyatt by Garry Disher, 2011 – Wyatt is Australia’s answer to Parker. Planning a jewelry heist with friends is something Wyatt doesn’t like to do but he needs a score. The job goes sideways and Wyatt is catapulted into escape mode while he works out what went wrong. Starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill, 2019 – The sixth in the historical series about Rowland Sinclair, a 1930s Australian artist from a wealthy family. In this installment the background surrounding the tension between Rowland and his brother is resolved, as well as the mystery of their father’s death. As usual, the politics of the time are front and center.

Invisible by Andrew Grant, 2019 – Another anti-hero who goes after the rental building owners in New York for property repairs and tries to figure out why valid criminal cases keep getting thrown out for lack of evidence. The janitorial staff’s answer to child care is particularly appealing. Publishers Weekly starred review.

Nighttown by Tim Hallinan, 2018 – Junior Bender’s latest foray into burglary, this time to steal an old doll from a house due to be torn down. The payment is absurd for the job so he knows something is wrong but he needs the money, so…. As always, Junior is a delight. One of my favorite contemporary crime characters. Publishers Weekly and Booklist starred reviews.

Joe Country by Matt Herron, 2019 – The sixth book in the acclaimed Slough House series. where failed spies are sent to stay out of the way. The newest recruit is determined to find out who set him up, and the other residents are acting out their problems more than usual. Dark, witty, compulsive reading. Publishers Weekly starred review.

The Rule of Law by John Lescroart, 2019 – A positively delicious entry in one of the few series I still collect. After making fun for years of Phyllis, the assistant Dismas Hardy inherited when he took over the law firm, she suddenly becomes a real person with real problems and in urgent need of legal help.

The Verge Practice by Barry Maitland, 2003 – The seventh of the Inspector Brock/Sergeant Kolla Scotland Yard police procedurals involving the disappearance of an internationally famous architect. Australian Maitland was an architect himself, so the business parts of the book are well-informed. A complicated, layered plot with a surprise ending. These books continue to be hard to find in the U.S.

Renting Silence by Mary Miley, 2016 – The third of the Roaring Twenties mysteries set in Golden Age Hollywood. Script girl Jessie has a murky past so she welcomes the opportunity to blend in among the crowds necessary to keep the film industry moving. She rubs elbows with the famous and the soon-to-be famous, including Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who call on her amateur investigative skills to keep their studio out of the newspapers.

The Last Act by Brad Parks, 2019 – A stand-alone thriller with original characters and an innovative plot. Juvenile actor Tommy Jump has come to the end of his acting career and he’s looking for the next place to land when he is offered $75,000 to enter a minimum-security prison under an assumed name for a short time to retrieve evidence for the FBI. Of course it’s not quite that simple. Library Journal starred review.

Arrest the Bishop? by Winifred Peck, 1949 – An early historical mystery, written in the late 1940s but set in 1920, just after the end of the Great War. A classic Golden Age setting of country manor near Christmas with plenty of suspects and an obnoxious victim. Only one of three mysteries by Peck, whose brother was Ronald Knox, the famous Golden Age mystery author.

Light It Up by Nick Petrie, 2018 – The third outing of and my introduction to Peter Ash, a PTSD-ridden veteran. He agrees to provide security for a cannabis firm in Denver and in no time at all is fighting to elude trigger-happy robbers. The shootout with his escape down a mountain is one of the most memorable scenes of my 2019 reading. Kirkus starred review.

Paper Son by SJ Rozan, 2019 – A most welcome return of Lydia Chin and Bill Smith. This time they leave their usual haunts in New York for the deep South where Lydia has family she didn’t know about. The history about Chinese immigrants serves as an unusual backdrop to their investigation. Starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.

The Crime at the Noah’s Ark by Molly Thynne, 1931 – Only one of six mysteries by Thynne, set at Christmas at an isolated inn, where snowbound travelers have sought refuge. One of the more unpleasant members of the group is murdered while the fabulous jewels of another disappear. No one gets any sleep as they guard the many exits against possible intruders. A complicated plot with some great characters.

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson, 1932 – One of the reprints from the British Library Crime Classics series, this is the only mystery by Wilkinson, who was a Labour Member of Parliament much of her life, one of the first women to serve in that role. An intriguing view of women in politics during the time as well as a well-executed mystery story.

Friday's Forgotten Book: Murder on a Bad Hair Day by Anne George

Anne Carroll George (1927-2001) was best known to me as a cozy mystery writer, the creator of the eight Southern Sisters mysteries set in Birmingham, Alabama, released between 1996 and 2001. She was also short-listed for a Pulitzer, nominated in 1993 for her poetry collection entitled Some of It Is True.

The Southern Sisters are Patricia Anne and Mary Alice, otherwise known as Mouse and Sister. Patricia Anne is married to Fred, has three adult children, and is a retired schoolteacher. Mary Alice has been married and widowed three times, has three grown children, and has enough money from her marriages to never have to worry again. They all live in Birmingham, Alabama, which George describes in the most affectionate of terms. In Murder on a Bad Hair Day (Avon, 1996) Christmas is only three weeks away, and Patricia Anne has yet to start her shopping. Mary Alice has invited her to attend a gallery opening, where they meet Abraham, a popular folk artist, whose work they both admire. They also meet the owner of the gallery, Mercy Armistead, who is found dead after the party is over. Not, as it turns out, of natural causes. The gallery owner’s assistant reports someone broke into her apartment the same night and tried to kill her. When the police investigate, they find her apartment has been vandalized. The assistant, a former student of Patricia Anne’s, disappears a day later. As Patricia Anne bakes cookies and shops and decorates, she and Mary Alice try to find the assistant, who seems to have left the hospital, where she was placed for protection, without clothes or money.  

I love Southern literature. Even the lightest of stories set in the South is redolent of family and history. The past is never really past, it’s an integral part of the present. Idiosyncrasy is something to be celebrated, not hidden. This series demonstrates these characteristics in abundance. The characters and the dialogue are wonderful. The sisters bicker as if they were teenagers. Fred and Mary Alice have never learned to like each other much, even after 40 years, which puts Patricia Anne in the middle often. Christmas adds an extra strain on everyone; Fred doesn’t want fresh greenery in the house, he considers it a fire hazard. Patricia Anne buys it anyway and waits for Fred to explode.

The gallery assistant’s twin sisters pop up at odd times, finishing each other’s sentences. Patricia Anne feels certain they know where their sister is. The scene where Patricia Anne finds them drunk and brings them home to keep them from driving is priceless. Fred is upset that she has brought strangers to his house and then decides they look adorable while they sleep off their hangover.

Throughout the perambulations of holiday preparations, Patricia Anne never loses sight of the fact there’s been a murder and a possible kidnapping. Equal parts Christmas story and well-plotted mystery. Readers of cozy mysteries who have not met the Southern Sisters should do so without delay. Those of you who remember them might want to schedule a series re-read as part of your New Year’s resolutions. Highly recommended.

Friday's Forgotten Book: Cry Guilty by Sara Woods

British author Lana Hutton Bowen-Judd (1922-1985) published 48 mysteries under the name of Sara Woods, three under the name Anne Burton, three under the name of Mary Challis, and three under the name Margaret Leek. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, England, she emigrated to Canada with her husband and there undertook her astonishingly prolific writing career, averaging two books a year, using her experience in a solicitor’s office as the basis for many of the plots.

Antony Maitland, the protagonist of the Sara Woods books, is a London barrister much like his legal cousin Perry Mason in that he is not content to simply practice law, he is compelled to investigate the cases that he undertakes. Maitland is surrounded by supportive family and friends who often ride shotgun with him on his investigations, since a war injury to his shoulder has left him unable to drive. He is devoted to his wife, with whom he grew up and married when they were still teenagers. (This is unusual, as most mystery protagonists are divorced, unhappily married, or desperately single.) His uncle with whom he practices law is often highly critical of Antony and his vagaries but deeply protective all the same.

In Cry Guilty!, the thirty-second title in the series, Antony and Jenny are just back in London from their summer vacation in the country when Antony is asked to represent Alan Kirby, who’s been accused of receiving stolen goods, in this case a Rubens painting that had been taken from a local museum months ago. This robbery is one of the latest in a series of art thefts which cropped up in an earlier book. There seems to be no real defense to the case but Antony decides to look into it anyway. After he spends a weekend questioning a number of people without anything much to show for it, his client is killed in a drive-by shooting. Overwhelmed with guilt, as clearly his questions upset someone more than he realized, Antony is determined to identify both the killer and the mastermind behind the art thefts. As often happens in these books, he does so during an intense courtroom scene.

Woods used a criminal kingpin as a plot device in a number of these stories, and I find they seem to wear a little less well than some of her other plots. The standard characters though are familiar and comforting. In a brilliant move Woods promoted a minor character (small town attorney Vera Langhorne who appeared occasionally) to a more prominent position in the series in an earlier book, and she makes a real difference to the interactions of the more established characters.

This series is one that always survives culling when I clear the shelves to make room for more books. I love the legal elements, the plots are generally well done, and the characters are old friends. These books are out of print now but most of the series can be found online or in secondhand book stores. Highly recommended.

Friday's Forgotten Book: Pronto by Elmore Leonard

Pronto by Elmore Leonard (Delacorte Press, 1993) is the first appearance in print of Raylan Givens, the U.S. Marshal who featured in the FX series Justified from March 2010 to April 2015. The television series was based on Leonard’s short story “Fire in the Hole” but this book describes the back story of Givens’ dealings with a Miami mobster that’s summarized in the initial episode.

Harry Arno is a bookmaker in Miami. He’s been skimming the profits due his silent mobster partners for years without comment from law enforcement or Jimmy Capotorto, the local boss. Suddenly Jimmy realizes Harry has been skimming and now wants revenge. Harry panics after Jimmy sends an incompetent assassin to settle the score, kills him, and then is under arrest, as the shooter’s gun mysteriously disappears and it looks like Harry killed an unarmed man. Local police urge Harry to turn state’s evidence against Jimmy, only Harry knows nothing good can come of it.

While Harry dithers, various law enforcement representatives are assigned to watch his hotel lobby to ensure he doesn’t jump bail. One of them is Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal who’s met Harry before. Givens was escorting Harry, who had been subpoenaed as a federal witness, to Chicago from Miami when Harry escaped at the Atlanta airport, leaving Givens with a major blot on his record with the U.S. Marshals Service. He’s determined to recoup his previous blunder. Unfortunately Harry evades him once again and is on a plane to Italy before anyone knows he’s gone. Completely mortified, Givens takes personal leave to follow Harry and bring him back.

In the meantime, the Miami mobsters are restive under the fading leadership of Jimmy and begin positioning themselves to take over his holdings, resulting in backbiting and quarreling. The various girlfriends sense the way the wind is blowing and quietly arrange to move on to greener and safer pastures. Leonard captures the personalities and the motivations of these lowlifes perfectly.

Givens finds Harry and his girlfriend in a country villa near Rapallo, protects them from the local shooting talent, and moves them safely out of Italy. Harry doesn’t make it easy, as he’s self-absorbed, paranoid, and generally obnoxious. The contrast between the soft American gangsters and their hard-as-nails Italian counterparts is sharply and starkly drawn.

It is impossible for me not to compare the book to the television series. Givens of the book is not quite Givens of the television series. He is still from Harlan County, Kentucky; wears a Stetson; was a coal miner; is a recognized sharpshooter; has an ex-wife who eloped with a real estate agent. In the book though he’s a bit of a country bumpkin everyone ridicules, sometimes to his face. It’s when he’s forced into a confrontation that his core strain of ruthlessness and implacability hidden by the good old boy façade emerges. Some folks live to regret their misjudgment and others don’t.

Absorbing read for someone who hasn’t seen Justified and great background for someone who has. Recommended.

Fridays Forgotten Book: The Perfect Murder by H.R.F. Keating

Henry Reymond Fitzwalter Keating (1926–2011) was an English journalist, book reviewer, and crime fiction writer, most well-known for his 26 mysteries featuring Inspector Ganesh Ghote of the Bombay (Mumbai) CID.  Other novels included seven about Detective Chief Inspector Harriet Martens and about 20 stand-alone crime stories and collections of short stories. He wrote a biography of Dame Agatha Christie entitled Agatha Christie: First Lady of Crime (1977) and The Bedside Companion to Crime (1989) as well as other crime non-fiction. He was chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) in 1970 and 1971 and president of the Detection Club from 1985 until 2000. In 1996 the CWA awarded him the Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding services to crime literature. On his 80th birthday in 2006, members of the Detection Club produced an anthology in his honor, Verdict of Us All, published by Crippen & Landru.

Inspector Ghote’s first appearance is in The Perfect Murder (1964), which won a Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger award and an Edgar Special award. The conscientious Inspector Ghote is sent to the home of the wealthy businessman Lala Varde to investigate what Varde reports as the murder of his secretary Mr. Perfect. Amid much lamenting Varde accuses unnamed corporate rivals of the murder while Ghote inspects the perimeter of the house, finding no opening where someone could have entered. Even the servants, of which there are a great number, appear to have been locked into their quarters.

When he asks to view the body, Inspector Ghote learns that the secretary is far from dead. He is upstairs with Varde’s physician, recovering from a severe blow to the head. While he is explaining the difference between murder and assault to Varde, Ghote is called to rush back to his office, where his supervisor places him in charge of discovering what happened to a single rupee that disappeared from the desk of the Minister of Police Affairs. In addition to juggling the two investigations, both with political ramifications for Ghote’s long-term career and both labelled top priority by his supervisor, Ghote also has Axel Svenson, a visitor from Sweden in Bombay to learn about India police methods, to contend with. Svenson has a gift for making incredibly awkward observations, such as if it’s true the Hindu gods are known to accept bribes, it’s no wonder the Indian police think it’s all right. Svenson turns out to be of more assistance than he originally appears to be, fortunately for Ghote.

The characters are wonderfully drawn in this quietly atmospheric book. Ghote’s devotion to the detection methods described in Gross’s Criminal Investigation, translated from the German, is a delight. Highly recommended.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: Coroner’s Pidgin by Margery Allingham

I was enthralled with Albert Campion when I first encountered him many years ago. His creator Margery Allingham wrote 17 books about him beginning in 1929. I’ve re-read them often and find that the earlier ones seem to wear better than the later ones. I have not tried any of the series titles completed by Allingham’s husband after her death or by Mike Ripley. Initially Campion was a clear imitation of Lord Peter Wimsey, a character I liked in his own right. Both were dilettante upper-class investigators, with a feigned inanity shielding great intelligence.  As Britain’s involvement in World War II grew, Campion shed his socialite persona and seemed to take on the role of an undercover agent.

In Coroner’s Pidgin (William Heineman, 1945), published in the United States as Pearls Before Swine (Doubleday Doran, 1945), Campion returns to London after a long stint overseas providing unspecified support to England’s war effort. He stops in his London apartment long enough to take a leisurely bath before catching a train to his country house where he left his wife Amanda three years ago.

Hearing noises from outside the bathroom door, he assumes his manservant, reformed thief Lugg, has arrived but is startled to hear feminine voices as well. With no bathrobe he wraps himself in towels and slides into his bedroom to dress to meet the owners of the voices and discovers a corpse in his bed. A corpse that was not there when he ran his bath fifteen minutes earlier. Upon inquiry he learns that Lugg and Edna, Dowager Marchioness of Carados, took it upon themselves to move the body of an unknown woman that they found in the Carados house to avoid publicity. Unfortunately they were observed and now the quiet disposal they’d planned has gone awry.

In no time at all Campion misses his train and is up to his ears in a murder investigation involving an admiral, the Marchioness, a well-known actress, an RAF hero, and the owner of the most popular restaurant in London. Not my favorite plot, which is a little too frenetic for my taste and relies far too much on happenstance, but perhaps among my favorites because of the bombshell ending.

Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Case of the Crumpled Knave by Anthony Boucher

Anthony Boucher to me these days means his namesake mystery conference, Bouchercon, which is one of the highlights of my year. Then of course I have read many of the anthologies of short mystery fiction he compiled and edited. Reading his own mystery fiction has taken a backseat until recently. His second mystery The Case of the Crumpled Knave (Simon and Schuster, 1939) and the first with Fergus O’Breen, a private investigator, is set in Los Angeles. It opens with Humphrey Garnett, a semi-retired chemist sending a telegram to a retired military friend in New York, urging him to fly west immediately to help with the inquest on Garnett’s own death.

An opening in which a character predicts his own death is an attention-grabbing device, even more so when Garnett is dead by the time the friend can reach California three days later. Colonel Rand finds Garnett’s home in the possession of the police and a murder investigation in full swing. The police focus on the members of the household: Garnett’s daughter Kay, her fiancé, Garnett’s research assistant, Garnett’s brother-in-law, and Garnett’s protege. They lose no time at all in arresting the fiancé of Garnett’s daughter, who of course believes they have the wrong person.

Kay is determined to discover the real culprit. Rand and her uncle support her in hiring Fergus O’Breen, a newly qualified private investigator and someone known to Kay from her school days. O’Breen has a habit of referring to himself in the third person as “The O’Breen” which is entertaining at first but could become annoying. He and Rand team up to interview everyone in the household again, especially the protégé, whose reason for being present is not made clear until late in the book. Perhaps it is an indicator of the social mores of the time that a stranger can be added to a house as a resident with no explanation given to the rest of the people living there. I can’t imagine the circumstances under which it could occur now.

Lots of misdirection and another murder occur with some romance before the killer is identified by the police. I found the discussions of playing cards, their history, and their artistic merits that are woven into the book intriguing. An enjoyable read.

Both Jon Jermey and Mike Grost reviewed the book on the Golden Age of Detection wiki here: