Gerald Verner was one of the many pen names used by John Robert Stuart Pringle (1897-1980). Other pseudonyms were Thane Leslie, Derwent Steele, Donald Stuart, and Nigel Vane. Donald Stuart was the name he used initially, writing 44 stories for the Sexton Blake Library under that identity. Verner wrote more than 120 novels, mostly mysteries and thrillers, that were translated into over 35 languages. He also wrote stage plays, radio serial programs, and movie scripts.
His most enduring series character was Superintendent Robert Budd of Scotland Yard, a large and sleepy detective who seems slow but manages to identify culprits in a more or less timely manner. The Silver Horseshoe (Wright & Brown, 1938; Lume Books, 2018) is Budd’s third appearance. It opens with John Arbinger, a well-known horseracing bookie, reading a letter demanding £5000 for protection from various unnamed racing gangs. That’s £339,077 in present-day pounds, or $427,985 US. The letter, signed only with the stamp of a silver horseshoe, expressly forbids contact with the authorities. Arbinger takes the letter to Budd in express defiance. Budd sends the letter to Finger Prints and promises an investigation. That night as Arbinger enters his study, a blast from a machine gun outside the French windows kills Arbinger and demolishes the room and its contents.
Budd was not expecting direct action of any sort and was completely taken aback. Confirmation that he was dealing with an unusual criminal came with the arrival of Peter Ashton of the Morning Mail, who had a copy of the original extorting letter sent to Arbinger as well as a letter to the newspaper, saying that Arbinger had been killed for failing to heed the warning not to contact Scotland Yard. There was no hope of keeping the newspaper from printing such a scoop and all Budd could do was try to make use of Ashton’s eagerness to investigate. In the meantime, other bookies who received letters demanding money were quick to pay up and keep still for fear of suffering the same fate. One bookie though was an ex-boxer and had no intention of being pushed around by a bunch of thugs…….
I enjoyed this book more than I expected to. It immediately drew me into the story and held my attention as one action sequence flowed easily into the next. Budd is an out-of-the-way fictional police detective, neither too good to be true nor a rogue cop. The writing style is not particularly dated, even though it’s more than 80 years old. I did notice some conventions that were popular at the time: There’s a master criminal who directs the activities of minions, keeping all but a few ignorant of the overall plan. The newspaper reporter becomes part of the investigative staff and the police share information with him. The kidnapping victims are held on a boat, which happens often in this time period. I do not know why. There had to have been garages, attics, and basements galore in London. Or maybe a nice deserted cottage on the outskirts of town. Perhaps boats are necessary so the kidnappers can leave victims to drown, creating a suspenseful scene while they find a way to escape. At any rate, this is a smoothly paced book with enough plot twists to hold a jaded mystery reader’s attention. Fans of Dick Francis and horseracing mysteries or journalist investigators will especially be interested in this story.