Friday’s Forgotten Book: Murder of Lydia by Joan A. Cowdroy

Joan A. Cowdroy (1884-1946) was an early 20th century English author who started writing general fiction and then discovered her talents for developing mysteries. Her first series detective was Chief Inspector John Gorham of Scotland Yard and then she created Li Moh, a retired detective from the San Francisco police force. The two often worked together to solve crimes.

Murder of Lydia (Hutchison, 1933; reprint Dean Street Press, 2019) opens with Mr. Moh enjoying the peace of a quiet beach in the early morning at Whitesands, an oceanside tourist haven somewhere in the south of England. He’s escaped the intolerable breakfast offered by his wife’s cousin, with whom his family is staying, and the even more painful company of the aforesaid relatives. He’s watching James Bond, a member of the local police force with whom Mr. Moh has become acquainted, take his morning swim. When Bond emerges from the ocean, he sees a neighbor’s dog absconding with his clothes. Moh kindly offers to retrieve them and makes the acquaintance of Rosalind Torrington, an ill-tempered young lady whose sullen personality makes a strong contrast with that of her older sister Lydia. Lydia is known for her stylish clothes and her charm.

Neither sister is particularly well liked by the local residents. Rosalind is believed to be deeply jealous of Lydia, partly because of Lydia’s inheritance of £500 (a little over £36,000 in 2020) and partly because of Lydia’s habit of poaching Rosalind’s admirers. So when James Bond and Li Moh discover the drowned body of Lydia later during one of Bond’s early morning swims and the death is determined to be homicide, suspicion turns immediately to Rosalind, who is arrested for murder.

The local Chief Constable calls in Scotland Yard, which brings Chief Inspector Gorham to Whitesands and a reunion with Mr. Moh, with whom he had worked before. His reconstruction of the scene, with measuring distances from the shore and the speed of the current and water depth, reminded me of mysteries that rely on careful analysis of train schedules. But he and Mr. Moh, with the assistance of James Bond, compile enough information to bring the crime home to its perpetrator and to obtain Rosalind’s release.

It is odd that this book is labelled a Mr. Moh mystery, when it’s Inspector Gorham who leads the investigation and who is front and center throughout the story. Hopefully Dean Street Press will see its way clear to reprint some of the books in which Inspector Gorham is supposed to be featured to allow a comparison.

Here’s what The Armchair Reviewer had to say about this book in February 2019:

Cover shown here is from the Dean Street Press 2019 re-issue.

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