29 MARCH 1963, Page 33

Distant Death

ONE comes to the conclusion that an ancestor of Sherlock Holmes must have been on board the Mayflower. Distance seems a necessary in- gredient to the illusion that is the stock-in-trade of a thriller-writer. Murder in faraway places and in strange surroundings is more interesting than murder in familiar places. A body found floating in the Bosphorus is more intriguing than one found on the beach at Blackpool or Brighton. The best of these books is not merely transatlantic, but transpacific.

The Killer Came Riding, by James Preston (John Long, 12s. '6d.), may not be a better de- tective story, in the strictly technical sense of the term, than some others in the batch, but it is a much better novel. This story of the Australian out:back in up-State Victoria, has an enormous sense of place and a feeling for people. After reading this book one really does have some idea of what life in that part of Australia is like. And it becomes a good detective story just because it is more than a detective story.

How Like an Angel, by Margaret Millar (Gollancz, 15s.), is set among a Protestant re- ligious group. Southern California is famous for near-lunatic-fringe religious sects, and this one, and especially its 'Reverend Mother,' Sister Blessing, could not be described as other than a genuine Christian community. The interplay between the worldly free-lance detective and the members of the community is superbly done. Clear writing and simple plotting hold attention to the end. It is not giving away any trade secrets to say that the language itself is almost a clue.

Just because she has led us to expect quite a lot from her, Miss Jean Potts's The Evil Wish (Gollancz, 15s.) is somewhat of a disappointment. The background as usual is the sophisticated mid-town world of New York City made familiar to us through the work of Miss Dorothy Parker. But the conflict between a father and his two grown-up daughters does not grip as it should. The plot gets lost and by the time the murderer is found the reader is exhausted.

Again if is New York City that forms the background for No Hiding Place, by Edwin Lanham (Gollancz, 15s.)—nothing to do with Paul Rotha's beautiful film of the same name. This is a family murder. Though punctuated by cliche the suspense is vividly sustained. Right to the last few pages, not only the reader, but also the two children who are its main characters, are never quite sure whether their father is really killed by their mother.

In Born Victim, by Hillary Waugh (Gollancz, 15s.), we escape at last from the heavy respec- tability of the mid-town middle class (if not from undistinguished language). The still unmarried mother of an 'illegitimately' born teenage girl murders her, because she is frightened that she may be seduced by her first, also teenage, boy- friend. Although the plot is not highly convinc- ing, yet the mixture of jealousy and genuine concern for the daughter on her mother's part is well created and sensitively described. But the police chief is by far the most engaging character. Why does it seem such a relief to get away from fiction to Mr. Eric Ambler's essays in The Ability to Kill (The Bodley Head, 16s.)? This genuine master of the art of making murder, the stealing of another person's life, look roman- tic, shows us just how mean and sordid and dreary and dull real Murder and real murderers usually are.