Amateur Sleuths Beware in Dorothy Bowers’ Deed Without a Name (1940)

When ‘amateur sleuthing… in self-defense’ goes horribly wrong…

In a similar way to Annie Haynes, Dorothy Bowers’ writing career has also suffered neglect due to her early death of tuberculous in 1948 (the year she also joined the Detection Club). Bowers had a short career with her first detective novel being published in 1938, Postscript to Poison (a book I’ve read), followed by Shadows Before (1939), Deed Without a Name (1940) (which I’m reviewing today), Fear and Miss Betony (1941) and The Bells of Old Bailey (1947). Her serial sleuth was Inspector Dan Pardoe and ‘many contemporary critics… said she was the logical successor to Dorothy L Sayers,’ (Tom and Enid Schantz, 2005) a writer she admired along with S. S. Van Dine, A. E. W. Mason and J. J. Connington. Based on the two novels of hers I have read I think this epitaph is not quite accurate, although her penchant for including literary quotations is similar, as in Deed Without a Name, the title of which comes from Macbeth, each chapter is subtitled with a quote from Shakespeare.

It’s 1939, war has recently been declared and on the very same day as telling two of his old school and college friends, Tony Wynkerrell (partner of a bookshop) and Philip Beltane (a schoolmaster), about a series of attempts to kill him, Archy Mitfold, an artist with a maimed hand and who is preparing for a job in the Foreign Office is murdered in the home of his Aunt. How the murder is committed is a straight forward affair, but the who and why are the puzzling elements of the case for Inspector Pardoe. Digging into Mitfold’s movements in the past few months makes the case even more mysterious. According to the maid he has been going out late at night saying cryptic remarks that indicate he was on to something, which is made more tantalising by the fact his diary is missing. He becomes exultant after a trip to the cinema and he is forever drawing or making clay models of a bird (pictures included), sometimes with a hammer symbol. He witnesses a bicycle accident, takes another man’s coat by accident at a Nordic Bond meeting he occasionally went to and accidently goes into an empty house due to the blackout, instead of his German Professor’s house. Surrounding all of these incidents is the fact that a millionaire called Samson Vick has also been missing for 3 weeks and in the run up to his murder Mitfold became suddenly interested in the case. Yet which of these are red herrings and which are the genuine clues to solving the case? Pardoe may have decided who his least and most likely suspects are, but will he unravel the mystery before the killer strikes again to preserve their anonymity?

This Rue Morgue reprint highlights one of the many clues in the mystery...

This Rue Morgue reprint highlights one of the many clues in the mystery…

Golden Age detective novelists often draw on unusual sources of information to inform their fictional crimes. Those on poison or other methods of murder would hardly be surprising and for the seasoned reader literary sources such as Shakespeare would also not be unheard of. Yet I think this is the first detective novel I’ve read where bird watchers or ornithologists to give them their technical term would have a decided advantage. Having said that since Bowers plays very fair with the reader, the killer’s identity should be guessable before Pardoe reaches it, even if you don’t have all the information and/or couldn’t tell the difference between a robin and a penguin. The puzzle is good with plenty of avenues for exploration and the clues as I have suggested are a little bit different. Moreover, the dialogue parts of the story are engaging and can be amusing at times. However, overall, as a novel, I felt it could have been shortened in order to create more tension and to prevent the parts where there is no dialogue from dragging at times, in particular I felt the novel did start rather slow. Due to these weaknesses in the narration I feel she is not as good as Sayers was and furthermore, I don’t think I was as interested in or as engaged with Inspector Pardoe as I have been when reading Lord Peter Wimsey’s exploits. Although in Bowers’ defense it seems that her fourth novel Fear and Miss Betony received the most praise at the time and therefore might be one of her stronger works.

Rating: 3/5

See what others made of Bowers’ Deed Without a Name:

http://prettysinister.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/in-brief-deed-without-name-dorothy.html

Bibliography

Schantz, T. & E. (2003). Dorothy Bowers. Available: http://www.ruemorguepress.com/authors/bowers.html. Last accessed 27/09/2015.

 

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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6 Responses to Amateur Sleuths Beware in Dorothy Bowers’ Deed Without a Name (1940)

  1. Jonathan says:

    Thanks for the review, and for sharing your thoughts on yet another Rue Morgue novel sitting on my shelf, awaiting reading. 🙂

    If I recall correctly, Martin Edwards liked this title best out of the four Bower novels, and so I guess I’m slightly disappointed that this didn’t turn out to be better. Would you say that ‘Postscript to Poison’ gets about the same rating as ‘Deed Without Name’?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm it’s been a while since I read it but I think it was slightly better. My primary reason for not enjoying it as much was simply the narrative style, yet I think that that is a fairly subjective thing, so you might interpret or perceive it in a different way, so I wouldn’t let my review put you off giving it a go. And it is eerie how many similar books we have in our TBR piles…

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  2. JJ says:

    I was, unfortunately, bored into submission by The Bells of Old Bailey a couple of years ago and gave up about halfway in, though it certainly sounds as if this fairs better in terms of puzzle and dialogue. I do love these Rue Morgue imprints, however – they have a remarkably high hit-rate and have brought some wonderful authors back into circulation…though things seem to have quietened down on that front lately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh dear I’ll stay clear of The Bells of Old Bailey then! I am tempted though by reading Fear and Miss Betony as did seem to receive a lot of praise at the time. The puzzle in this one is good and well put together, just needed a quicker narrative I think. I love the Rue Morgue reprints as well as it is the only way I would have encountered quite a lot of authors, Joan Coggin and Juanita Sheridan being two favourites of mine.

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  3. Keishon says:

    Have heard so many great things about this writer. I don’t know what to think anymore. It’s not like my tbr pile needs more books added to it. I love Sayers and have read the 1st book that features Harriet Vane with Lord Peter Wimsey.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I had heard good things too so I was surprised when I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to, but it might just be that Bowers isn’t my sort of cup of tea. Strong Poison is a good book though.

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