Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
The Dean Street Press have once again introduced me to a new author, who seems to have led an action packed life, working as a colonial administrator in places such as Tonga, acting as Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard and even working in intelligence according to the excellent introduction by Martin Edwards. Edwards also informs us that Thompson ‘interrogated Mata Hari and Roger Casement…’ The style of the novel definitely reflects Thompson’s own experiences of police work and the case is solved in Richardson’s First Case (1933) by team effort involving an array of different police officers. This team effort is consistent throughout the tale and is intrinsic to the plot, unlike in some of Ngaio Marsh’s novels where although there is a police team, the narrative is predominantly focused on Inspector Alleyn. The most interesting fact for me from this introduction was that one of Thompson’s other novels, The Milliner’s Hat Mystery (1937) inspired an intelligence operation which Ian Fleming was involved in during WW2. It was also nice that the foreword from the original American edition was included and it details Thompson’s thoughts on what makes for successful detective work – Holmes does not fare well!
Richardson’s First Case begins with PC Richardson on point duty in the rain at the end of Baker Street. The narrative style from the very start has a feeling of consciously trying to show readers what being a policeman is actually like. But while Richardson is planning how he will get into CID, a car accident occurs nearby with an old man being killed, who previously had been heard to say he was going for a policeman. Initially the victim’s identity is unknown, but a piece of paper in the old man’s pockets has the name Arthur Harris written on it, along with an address. Richardson follows this name up, finding Harris to be a young rich man, known for speeding. Harris claims to not recognise the man when shown him at the mortuary, but this is revealed to be a lie when the old man’s nephew Herbert Reece turns up at the hospital. Not only does he recognise the body as his uncle, John Catchpool but he also knows that Harris owned his uncle a lot of money, as Catchpool aside from being an antique shop owner and property owner, was also a money lender. Moreover, Catchpool was actually on his way to Harris’ house when he was run over, to either obtain his money or inform Harris’ father.
The following day, because Catchpool’s one and only key to his antique shop is missing, the police and Reece have to break down the door. But on entering the office they find Mrs Catchpool dead with there being no doubt she was murdered. Prior to both the Catchpool deaths, husband and wife, who had separated some time ago, had been rowing, which makes John Catchpool the prime suspect. Perhaps it was a case of murder then suicide or maybe murder and then an accident? However, both these theories are complicated when a witness is said to have seen Mrs Catchpool after the time of Mr Catchpool’s death. Yet if this is the case how did she get into the shop, which Mr Catchpool had locked prior to his death? The investigation is delayed to an extent by the fact that this witness was Mrs Catchpool’s nephew, Lieutenant Sharp and he is currently on a boat in the Mediterranean so the police only have his testimony second hand from his friend Lieutenant Kennedy. While Sharp is making his way back to England, Kennedy seems more than happy to help with the investigation, but is he too keen?
Obviously finding the culprit is important in this case, but another crucial issue is finding out which of the two Catchpools died first, due to how their wills are phrased. If Mrs Catchpool died first then Reece receives everything but if Mr Catchpool died first then it appears Lieutenant Sharp inherits. With many characters having something to gain through lying it takes the police a lot of work to discover the truth, especially when different witnesses disagree over the sightings of Mrs Catchpool. For a time PC Richardson seems to take a backseat in this story as only being a PC, the case is moved on to Inspector Foster who is part of the CID. But due to hard work and a knack for completing onerous tasks speedily it seems as though Richardson may have a chance of speeding up his promotion. In keeping with the fact that this is a police investigation focused story the end of novel centres on finding sufficient evidence to convict the culprit.
This is not a story to be read for its lavish prose or depth of characters. The narrative style is to the point and is plot focused, following the police investigation from start to finish. Usually for me this means a very boring read, especially if that read is by Freeman Wills Crofts and is starring Inspector French. However this is not the case here as this concise style means there is no unnecessary padding and nor is there any long theorising. Thompson gets down to business and tells a good story in my opinion. The ending is a little abrupt though.
SPOILER ALERT – THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH DOES NOT SAY WHO THE KILLER IS, BUT IT MAY GIVE MORE POINTERS THAN YOU WISH)
Although in some ways the choice of killer was logical and much more realistic, I think due to all my other Golden Age reading which likes to surprise you with who the killer is, the choice of killer in this novel seemed to lack a bit of imagination and felt less satisfying. I think also although this character is not especially likeable it does seem like they were a victim of class prejudice from the very beginning and perhaps I don’t like seeing such prejudice vindicated.
SAFE TO RESUME READING
A Final Note
The Dean Street Press edition of this novel also includes the opening chapter of Thompson’s second novel Richardson Scores Again (1934) which looks at a burglary ending in murder. A dairy farm sale leads to a man leaving a large amount of money in his country house and while he is away for the night asks his nephew to come and stay. But when he returns his housekeeper is murdered, his money gone and evidence that his nephew had been there but not anymore. An initial setup which looks promising to me…
Rating: 4.25/5 Despite my qualms about the killer, my rating is primarily based on Thompson’s strong storytelling abilities. Moreover I am also impressed at how Thompson makes his very thorough police investigation interesting and entertaining, a talent I think Crofts lacked.
Tom Cat at Beneath the Stains of Time has also reviewed this novel here.