Get your brain in training with Vernon Loder’s The Shop Window Murders (1930)

I’ve been looking forward to trying this title for quite a few months now, fuelled by an article in CADs magazine, which incidentally was written by Nigel Moss, who wrote the introduction for this Harper Collins reprint. Moss does a great job of engagingly informing us on not just Loder, (one of many pennames for John Vahey), but on the book itself, providing an interesting comparison with Ellery Queen’s The French Powder Mystery, which also happened to be published in 1930, featuring a corpse in a department store’s window. Coincidence? It was also great to find references to two fellow bloggers, J. F. Norris and Curtis Evans – it’s always fun to have that “I know that name” moment.

So today’s review is looking at Loder’s 4th mystery novel and shoppers get a surprise waiting for the new window display at Mander’s Department Store to be revealed, when two corpses are spotted in the display: namely of the store’s grandiose owner Tobias Mander and one of his chief fashion buyer’s Effie Tumour (odd surname I know). Inferences of course are quickly drawn about why Effie was on the premises after hours and Inspector Devenish is faced with trying to figure out what combination of murder, accident or suicide these two deaths comprise. Motives are soon unearthed from potential jealousy of Effie’s fiancé and Tobias’ patroness to business skulduggery and more.

Overall Thoughts

I seem to be reviewing a lot of books this month that are made for puzzle fans, as Loder gives his readers a puzzle and then some! Morris in his introduction to the book comments on Loder’s ‘enigmatic clues’ and his ‘fiendishly intricate plotting’ and both of these descriptions are warranted for this book in my opinion. Loder builds up quite a mystery through what you could describe as a surfeit of clues, (missing bullet and weapon, more than one weapon, the role of the shop lifts, wheel prints on the roofs…), many of which the reader and the police know must be red herrings, faked up to mislead, yet the tricky part is trying to figure out the truth they are attempting to obfuscate. Still I think this book could probably win the award for mystery with most criminal fakery in it, along with the award for most unusual place for a suspect to get shot in. The solution is a little fantastical in terms of character psychology but in terms of practicalities Loder provides his readers with a quirky, ‘tragi-comedy’ of a solution to the deaths, fully backed up by the various clues and information that Devenish finds out.

Devenish is likened to Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French, which did make me a little uneasy given my lack of enthusiasm for Crofts’ creation, yet I found I quite enjoyed Devenish as a character. He engagingly lets his suspects trip themselves up and there is a likeable sharpness to him at times. I also appreciated that Devenish’s thorough investigation was concisely recorded, so inquiries into lift carpets are dealt with in a couple of paragraphs as opposed to other authors, who shall remain nameless, who go on and on and on about similar minutiae.

Yet for all the puzzle focus, Loder still has time to make effective lines of characterisation. This is most palpable in the opening chapter, where we hear about Tobias, a self-made owner and his savvy press campaign. In a way it made me think of ITV’s Mr Selfridges*:

‘The connoisseurs among the men called him a ‘cheery bounder,’ but the women’s votes were mixed. Some thought him charming, if vulgar; and others vulgar if charming; while a few, who had encountered his roving blue eyes with a twinkle in them, declared themselves fascinated.’

I also liked the slow reveal of the bodies as it takes the shoppers some time to spot them and I loved this comment by the narrator: ‘Someone in the meantime had removed the public nuisance, who had fainted, and the rest of the crowd surged back to see the horror.’ I think it is a good example of how effective Loder can be in his pithy and concise writing style.

All in all a mystery which gives you plenty to think about, so if you want to give your little grey cells some good exercise then I’d strongly recommend this book.

Rating: 4.25/5

Source: Review Copy (Harper Collins)

See also:

The Mystery at Stowe (1928)

* I am basing this on the adverts, got to admit, as I’ve not actually watched the program, so do feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

21 comments

    • I’m intrigued by this one, too — not least because for at least tw oyears now I’ve been confusing Vernon Loder with Gerald Verner, and reading Nigel Moss’ article in CADS made me quite excited to try out this puzzle plotter I’d suddenly ‘discovered’!

      Also, Vahey wrote about 40 books…so, who knows, we may all have a new author to obsess over…

      Liked by 1 person

      • haha well I’ve not come across Gerald Verner so that’s a new author for me and I can definitely see Loder’s work being a fertile field for you to mine (excuse the mixed metaphor), as he definitely seems keen to deliver out of the ordinary puzzles.
        P. S. Glad you’re reading CADs now!

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      • Verner has been rather a low-quality wel so far; he wrote — doubtless among other tings — a series of stories that were essentially Holmes rip-offs, and only really ‘The Strange Affair of the Dancing Parson” is worth checking out from my experience. However, something good could well emerge, and a couple of his Mr. Budd stories do sound intriguing…

        Liked by 1 person

  1. This one sounds right up my alley and look forward to your upcoming reviews for puzzle fiends. You can never have enough excuses to fatten your wish list. Even more so now that December is drawing nearer! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure if I planned to review lots of puzzle focused mysteries it would go horribly wrong so I’m liking the unintentional-ness of it all and I’d certainly be interested to see what you make of the mystery, given your greater expertise and interest in that area.

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  2. I don’t share your enthusiasm for the book
    Though the plot idea is good, and it is interesting and enjoyable in parts,on the whole it is verbose and at times dull.
    It is often verbose. Each and every thought process and musing of Devenish, as he goes over the same points again and again, is described unnecessarily.
    There are many clues, in fact too many clues. Devenish and others have a hard time figuring out which are the real clues and which are simply plants. Also, the witnesses and suspects are often evasive and they have to be questioned repeatedly to elicit the truth from them.
    SPOILER ALERT
    SPOILER ALERT

    After so much effort and mental cogitation, is Devenish able to arrive at a solution ? No ! It is only when a person confesses towards the end that the solution is reached. If that person had confessed earlier, , there would have not been so much wasted effort. Of course in that case there would not have been this book !

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can understand your issues with the book. I think you need to see the criminal’s exploits in terms *spoiler alert* of how someone can end up in a complete pickle through lack of thinking *end of spoiler *.
      I’ve come to the conclusion that it is very subjective as to how repetitive information becomes, as normally that is the sort of difficulty I can have with books. I was quite tired reading this one so a spot of repetition was probably quite handy for trying to remember everything! I think it is a little unfair to criticise the lack of helpfulness from the witnesses and suspects though as the uncooperativeness of such people is kind of a trade mark of GAD crime.

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  3. I’m happy that Nigel Moss mentioned me in his intro because I’m pretty sure he discovered Loder on my blog. He used to be a regular visitor years ago and there are still a few of his comments on some of the very early posts.

    Loder is one of my favorite obscure writers that no one else seems to get or even like. His bizarre imagination is something to marvel at and I like his odd sense of humor. SHOP WINDOW… may be his weirdest mystery novel. I’m not found one more unusual. He has a favorite motif (featured in this book) that he somehow manages to get a lot of mileage out of in his books. I can’t believe how many times he has incorporated that gimmick in the books I’ve read so far. SHOP WINDOW… may have the most complex and innovative use of that plot motif.

    If you come across a copy of THE ESSEX MURDERS (US title: THE DEATH POOL) you ought to read that one as a comparison of how he employs the motif.

    Santosh has cut and pasted his comment from my blog review of this book (back in Dec 2014) and slapped it onto your blog. I’m sorry that you had to suffer a rerun of his tirade. Luckily, you have the ability to alert people to his ranting spoilers in the final paragraph.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the late reply, but my blog decided to pop this comment in my spam folder. Not sure why. I will definitely keep my eyes peeled for TSM though I feel I may have to wait until it is reprinted, as I can’t imagine it being widely available. How many Loder novels have you read?

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    • “Luckily, you have the ability to alert people to his ranting spoilers in the final paragraph”

      Well,you are mistaken, John (as usual)! It is I who inserted the spoiler warnings before the final paragraph.

      Like

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