20 JANUARY 1961, Page 24

The Smartest Grave. By R. J. White. (Collins, 12s. 6d.)

Many 'period' novels have been written around real murders, and the joint winner in Collins's crime-novel competition for dons is a fictionalised version of the Moat Farm Murder that sticks closely to Tennyson Jesse's account in the Notable Trials series. It is agreeaby read- able, but the characters are paper-thin, the plot is all too foreseeable, and the history-don author ought not to have people in 1903 being 'put in the picture' or described as 'the cat's whiskers.' The distinguished judges in this competition must have had a poor entry to pick from, for the other winner, Messages from Sirius, by Cecil Jenkins (Collins, 12s. 6d.), is one of those smart-aleck `contemporary' novels, with a television perfor- mer as victim and a night club as the setting; it is pretentiously written; fantastically far-fetched (the murderer announces further murders in letters to the Times); and inaccurate in detail (a reporter is described as writing his own headlines).