7 SEPTEMBER 1951, Page 26


9s. 6d.) THERE are two fundamentally different kinds of plot passing as detective fiction. In one an initially inexplicable situation gradually becomes comprehensible, the reader and the fictional detective un- ravelling it together, virtually no information gleaned by the latter not being immediately shared with the former ; no true deduction or induction—I never know one from the other—takes place. Under this heading falls most of the detective fiction offered to the public today in a range from the latest American fashion fnr presenting a' seemingly fantastic situation, and then providing a rational solu- tion, to the simple old-fashioned gang story.

The other kind of detective fiction, unfortunately becoming increasingly rare, is the classic manner of which Conan Doyle remains the supreme exponent, the fair presentation of a set of facts from which the solution may, if these are correctly interpreted, be derived. . Of this week's books only one falls into this pattern; and this is The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis. It is particularly gratifying that this should be so as Miss (Mr. ?) Lewis's last book was well below standard and led one to believe that she (he ?) was lost to serious detection. The new book relieves all qualms. Set in Hollywood, with the murderee the seemingly inoffensive husband of an extremely well-drawn middle-aged screen-writer, puzzle, plot and solution are uniformly good.

It is always disappointing When a hitherto reliable writer lets us down, and neither the new Ellery Queen nor the new Georgette Heyer is as good as one hoped. The Origin of Evil is, like the last book, set in Hollywood with murder among a group of assorted but not very credible people, but fantasy'has run away with sense, and such little true detection as there istis far-fetched and silly. Duplicate Death is set among the most unverisimilar Mayfairites one has ever read of, and a thoroughly boring set of characters is well rounded off by the maddening Inspector Grant with his little interjections in the Gaelic. :• Far more apparent reality is to be found in The; Chief Inspector's Statement—reasonably so, since its author is an ex-policeman. Unfortunately reality—which is different from verisimilitude-As not a necessary ingredient in detective fiction, and though this hunt for the village murderer of little girlsis excitingly told, it is rather a study of police methods than a detective-story proper: Lilies In Her Garden Grew is exciting, macabre, and well• sustained, an American story of.sophisticated New Yorkers with twl very pleasant detectives. It seenis ungracious to carp that what they do is uncovering rather than detecting, but there it is ; a good stor y in good English with interesting characterisation, but only in meagre snatches a detective story. Starry-Eyed Chipmunk is even more emphatically in this new American manner of finding an apparently impossible fantastic situation and then explaining it away. Tlle trouble is that the explanation is seldom as exciting as the origin proposition, which in this case, is a girl with a horror of fish shyi up in a bottle with a Viking and a chipmunk—well, I suppose unreasonable to expect any explanation to come up to that. Nighr Man is not detection but cumulative horror, a sordid triangle 4f girl, mother and fancy -man at a second-rate American hotel ;