17 JANUARY 1969, Page 16


Habeas corpus


Past Praying For Sara Woods (Crime Club 30s) Silence Under Threat Belton Cobb (W. H. Allen 21s) Fuzz Ed McBain (Hamish Hamilton 21s) Your Secret Friend Malcolm Torrie (Michael Joseph 30s) The Smile on the Face of the Tiger Douglas Hurd and Andrew Osmond (Collins 25s) The Lucifer Cell William Fennerton (Hodder and Stoughton 25s) Three Minus Two Donald MacKenzie (Hod- der and Stoughton 21s) Fear and the Dead Man Lou Smith (Collins 18s) The Chicago Crime Book edited by Albert Halper (Souvenir Press 42s) What became of the body in the library? Has anyone seen it lately? And Clifton Masters, the donnish investigator with a grip of surpris- ing strength? And the alibi, involving (like one of Harriet Vane's) five clocks, a steam-yacht, and the change from winter to summer time? And the final confrontation, as guilt hops like a roulette ball from slot to slot before falling— inevitably, as we realise too late—on Dr Vingtneuf (noir, impair et passe)? Where, in fact, is the detective story in which everything opens and shuts?

Perhaps the form is played out. But has it

been succeeded by the detective story where everything doesn't open and shut? Look at these. Past Praying For is a Crime Club book from an experienced hand, starring an agreeably old-fashioned investigating team of famous criminal-law QC and nephew. (Old-fashioned? Well, name any famous criminal-law QC. . . The situation is strong. But the detection— there just isn't enough of it. The mainspring of the plot is uncovered by chance, guilt estab- lished by a confession. One recognisable clue, attractive to those who know more about rice- puddings than I do. And no ultimate surprise when the criminal is named. If Miss Woods would care to write the book again, I have a splendid alternative solution.

Then there's Silence Under Threat, long for its content, and mechanical—which would be no fault if the central clue were not withheld from the reader. And Fuzz, with the cops, of the 87th Precinct drawn with Mr McBain's expertly heightened realism. But these entirely credible cops—particularly good are their questionings of suspects—are up against an entirely incredible villain : a Moriarty : a master criminal with a grudge against the 87th Precinct. He is in the wrong book: he should be trying to rough up James Bond. A pity.

And then Your Secret Friend, set in and around a girls' school where the juniors experi- ment with witchcraft and the teachers with sex, and neither get very far. What is the point of hooks like this?—a detective story only in the sense that someone gets murdered and the hero finds out who did it. This stunted sprig of plot subsists in a wilderness of facetious and irrele- vant narrative. The victim and criminal are obvious from the start. And such detection as takes place would have been accomplished by a constable, in fifteen minutes, as a matter of routine. Bring back the body in the library!

For the pleasure that a well-made detective story should give, try The Smile on the Face cif the Tiger. This novel of public and private motives turns on a Chinese threat to take Hong Kong. Who's bluffing and who's blackmailing whom? It's a Chinese puzzle: each solution contains a new riddle: but each riddle can be solved—the clues are there, and the reader is treated fairly. Only one scene flaws the book: it is crucial to the hero's motive and it does not carry conviction. Otherwise this is a highly effective and professional piece of work.

The Chinese pop up again in The Lucifer Cell, this time occupying London. Resistance forces plan to assassinate the Quisling prime minister in Red (late Green) Park. Red Park tube station is on the Serenity Line, whereas Harlin (late Hampstead) is on the Jade. (Why are all catastrophe novels set in London? What would life be like in Egyptian-occupied Brad- ford?) Then two accounts of life in and around the Secret Service (what a busy lot they are). In Three Minus Two the hero, in Poland to write a magazine article, gets involved with. . Meanwhile his girl-friend, herself of Polish extraction. . . . A disillusioned approach to our spymasters, after John Le Carr& Fear and the Dead Man shows a highly illusioned

ap- proach: Mr Smith's two principal illusions being that-his hero is sympathetic and that a number of old jokes are new.

Lastly, for the reader who likes death whole- sale, there is The Chicago Crime Book, an anthology. As an account of the Prohibition gangsters it does not displace Kenneth Allsop's The Bootleggers. But it deals not only with the Colosimos- and Capones, but also with sitah

distinguished Chicagoan murderers aS Leopold and Loeb; H. H. Holmes, One of the few private-enterprise murderers to have reachedhis century—he confessed only to twenty-seven murders, but those were all he could remerriber; and Adolph Louis Luetgert who muffed the finest chance of all. Wishing to dispose of his wife's body, having murdered her in the sausage-factory of which he was the propriefor, he merely tried to dissolve her in potash. One has no sympathy.