Incident at a Corner (1957) by Charlotte Armstrong

I was intrigued to try more by Armstrong after reading her A Dram of Poison (1956) earlier this year. Like this earlier read, today’s book has an unconventional plot, eschewing the usual murder story. Instead we have James P. Medwick, a crossing guard or in the UK a lollipop man for an elementary and junior high school. All is peaceful until Mrs Tawley, the president of the parents’ safety council ignores his stop sign, which results in Medwick planning to report her to the police. The next day, Medwick’s birthday, sees not only his granddaughter Jane losing her tutoring job with Tawley’s son, but also sees Medwick himself fired after an anonymous note claims he has been behaving inappropriately around the children. Of course his family don’t believe these claims, yet nevertheless many of them think it would be better to slink quietly away than challenge the accusation. All except Jane and her fiancé who plan to get to the bottom of the note.

Overall Thoughts

I have tried to be quite minimalist with the synopsis as this is an unusual variant of the inverted mystery. You can guess what has really happened, due to events I haven’t mentioned above, and how the characters have got the wrong end of the stick, so the mystery instead becomes one which concerns how things will work out. Whilst this tragi-comedic story line is perhaps quite simple, the main strength of this story lies in its characterisation and the emotionally charged atmosphere as Jane tries to get her grandfather’s name cleared in face of parent and school hysteria and apathy. Proving one’s innocence is far from easy in this story. Equally given the story line the author was very sensible in not over writing and this tale is more of a novella than a novel. So all in all an enjoyable quick read.

Rating: 4/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Made into a Film/TV/Play

14 comments

  1. Hmmm. This feels like domestic thriller and inverted mystery, two genres that I’m not sure I’d like – perhaps I’ll give it a miss. But glad you enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the next review, as I received a different volume of Sidney Grant stories as a gift last year.

    I just completed Abir Mukherjee’s ‘Rising Man’, which I quite enjoyed despite its length: about 130 pages longer than the novels I tend to read. Given your taste for historical mysteries, I think you might like it. The historical setting and the characters were engaging. I might be moving on to Boris Akunin’s ‘Winter Queen’ next.

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    • Yes this is perhaps one for you to enjoy vicariously, bit like when I read one of JJ’s croft reviews. Not tried the Chambers series before so am equally interested to see what it is like. Which volume did you receive?
      Not heard of Mukherjee’s novel, but will add it to my TBB list. Being good at the moment and working through the books I bought based on my TBR SOS post. Glad you’re returning to Akunin’s work. Be interested to see what you make of this one, given that it is less GAD than Murder on the Leviathan. Really emotional one as well. You might want to try the first in the Sister Pelagia series as the sleuthing/clue element style is more consistent, whilst Akunin deliberately changed the mystery genre style for each of his Akunin novels.

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      • Yes, I fear Charlotte Armstrong and possibly Charlotte Smith as well, will only receive “vicarious enjoyment” from me. 😅

        I received “Shadow of Death” as a gift, and I’ve read the opening story. Which I thought had one or two fair clues, but placed more weight on “Grantchester” rather than “Mysteries”. I’d be keen to hear what you think. 😊

        I decided to pick up “Winter Queen” after re-visiting your review on “All the World’s a Stage” – which sounded interesting. But I believe your recommendation was to at least read “Winter Queen”, “Leviathan”, “Turkish Gambit” and “Diamond Chariot” before “Stage”? So I’m going back to the start in order to better appreciate “Stage”. I know Akunin plays around with both mystery puzzle and political thriller, so I’m hoping all of these titles lean towards mystery puzzle. 😬

        Reading Akunin after Mukherjee promises to be interesting, since both series feature complex protagonists thrown into historic moments of nationalism and upheaval. I definitely think you should give Mukherjee’s first novel a go – I picked it up in response to Aidan’s review of the second novel.

        Then again, I’d be curious to hear what you make of Ovidia Yu’s “Frangipani Tree Mystery”, which also features a complex heroine in a colonial background. Mukherjee’s novel offered me a more satisfying experience on the whole, but I very much enjoyed the setting for Yu’s novel.

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      • Yes going back to Winter Queen is probably a good idea as Fandorin’s experiences in this first book really impact the rest of the series. The way he acts later on makes much more sense, so you’ll benefit from the chronological order, as Diamond Chariot is another emotional rollercoaster. One heck of an ending is all I will say, and it is interesting in that it explores Fandorin’s time in Japan.

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  2. Nice review; you’re right that it’s more of a novella than a novel and it was published here as part of an anthology of stories that inspired Hitchcock, who made a rather good TV movie out of it, with Armstrong herself providing the screenplay. It was their only pairing – somewhat oddly given how much their respective universes had in common – and can easily be found online.

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  3. Having really liked Dram of Poison this sounds one to look out for. The theme of guilt by accusation sounds interesting (as well as topical) and, hell, it stars a lollipop man. That’s reason enough.

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