Crime Without Detection
Ii' literature reflects life, then we can fairly say that the inductions to be drawn from recent crime fiction are depressing. True detection is moribund if not already dead : the thriller is on the up-and-up. Sitting down to ponder with a shot of cocaine and a pound of shag is unpositive and demo& As surely as any Marxist could wish, ratiocination is being replaced by action. Thus only three examples of true detection present themselves this month, and of these one is pre-war and two are short stories, and all put what follows them in total shade. The first is a reprint of Hamlet, Revenge l by Michael Innes (Gollancz. 8s. 6d.), a masterpiece of its kind, and a fruitful source of regret that Appleby does so much chasing around these days instead of quietly capping quotations. Then come The Queen's Awards, Series 5 (Gollancz. 10s. 6d.), all good stories and the first, a period pastiche by John Dickson Carr, excellent. Third, Ellery Queen's Calendar of Crime (Gollancz. 10s. 6d.), a short story for every month of the year, and each story relevant to its month. (And, talking of months, how much this one is Mr. Gollancz's 1) Some, inevitably, are better than others ; all are good.
The best of the thrillers are very enjoyable indeed. In A Time To Kill (Michael Joseph. 9s. 6d.) Geoffrey Household carries on with Roger Taine, the hero of his last book, this time ganged up with the not-so-bad-after-all British Nazi Pink against the wholly bad Commies. (Literature does indeed reflect life with a vengeance.) There isn't an ounce of probability anywhere, but the writing is good, and the story, which includes child-kidnapping and small boats, fast and suspenseful. Desmond Cory's second book, This Traitor, Death (Frederick Muller. 10s. 6d.) is better than his first—always a nice thing to be able to say. This one is set in Paris with the Secret Service and the ex-Nazis, -Commies, -Partisans and what-have-you in a swift, brutal, decently written imbroglio. Telling of Murder by Douglas Rutherford (Faber. 12s. 6d.) should be a natural for the films, with a scorching car-ride across Europe, a chase through the sewers of Trieste, torture and lots of sudden death. The villains, of course, are Commies. Jack lams, whose first book was more or less detection, has now turned wholly to the thriller, and A Shot of Murder (Gollancz. 9s. 6d.), set in Paris and Poland with an American hero, includes asylums, hypodermics and a beautiful French spy. Guess who the villains are !
The Frightened Dove by Peter Hardin (Heinemann. 10s. 6d.) strikes a wholly original note in having for its villains Italian Fascists. This novel, about the ex-anti-Fascist turned peaceful tailor in New York chasing the old enemy to and around Montreal, is well-written and has a thoroughly well-worked-out surprise-ending that inclu a spot of hard thinking, an exercise noticeably absent from the books in the paragraph above. Night Watch, by Thomas Walsh (Hamish Hamilton. 10s. 6d.), is again of a different order, the kind of book that builds its effect through the accumulation of suspense within a limited area of time and space Here the setting is a huge American housing project, the plot hanging on the cop tempted by the pickings of murder, One suspects it was written with the film- rights in mind, but it's quite a bit above average.
The last group consists of the sort of book that is nowadays sold as detective fiction, but bears only as much resemblance to the work of the masters as, say, Daphne du Maurier does to Charlotte Brontë or Enid Blyton to Mrs. Ewing. Murder takes place. Something called detection is instituted. The villain is brought to book. But the exquisite thrill of pure reason plays only a nominal part.
Thus, in Miss Pinnegar Disappears (Crime Club. 9s. 6d.), Anthony Gilbert has Mr. Crook spurting around to find the missing spinster, but incident rather than thought provides the momentum of this readable story. Roy Vickers' two long-shorts, The Sole Survivor and The Kynsard Affair (Gollancz. 9s. 6d.) both have initially promising situations, but proceed at such a pedestrjan pace that one ceases to care long before the solutions—which are not, in any case, fairly guessable by clues proffered en route. The Right Honourable Corpse by Max Murray (Michael Joseph. 10s. 6d.), set in diplomatic circles in Canberra, is a rattling good story and great fun to read ; if the amount of true detection is infinitesimal, we are at least given quite a deal else instead. The same remarks, with the exception that the setting is the south coast of England, apply to The Widow of Bath by Margot Bennett (Eyre and Spottiswoode. 10s. 6d.).