I first sampled this duo’s work last year, reviewing From Information Received (1962). An imperfect title, but one that left me intrigued as to what the rest of their work was like. So it has been very helpful that the Dean Street Press are reprinting three of their titles in March. I am looking at one of these today, but the other two are Murder Jigsaw and Murder Isn’t Cricket. All three feature Dr Harry Manson, who is a ‘scientific police detective,’ who works at Scotland Yard and whose use of science to prove guilt will remind many of his literary ancestor, Dr Thorndyke.
Edwin and Mona Radford’s mystery writing career began in their 50s, spurred on by a lack of detective story reads in their local library, when Edwin was ill. Poor health certainly seemed to launch the mystery writing career of quite a few novelist in the pre-war era. Like his creator, Manson enters the world of words in his 50s and has a Cambridge MA. The theatrical milieu of today’s read should equally be of no surprise given Mona’s earlier acting career. The way Edwin describes their writing roles was also something I found quite amusing: ‘She kills them off and I find out how she done it,’ and for those who love a detailed investigation into how a crime was accomplished, you definitely won’t be disappointed with this one.
As I said above this mystery has a theatre setting and takes place during the Christmas pantomime season. The Pavilion Theatre at Burlington-on-Sea is hosting that well-loved story, Dick Whittington. Yet all is not well behind the scenes, with most of the cast and stage hands quite happily wishing that Norma de Grey, the actress playing Whittington, would just drop down dead. So it’s quite convenient when she dies on stage one night, poisoned. Initially it seems like an open and shut case, with only one person in a positon to have done the deed, yet when they’re found at death’s door, this is only the beginning of the proverbial spoke in the wheel…
Puzzle fans without a doubt will be wanting to and needing to put this book at the top of their to be bought list. The central crime starts out deceptively simple but various complications are to follow, making it much harder to solve how it was achieved and by whom. The introduction of a secondary police investigation into a separate crime also adds an extra dimension to the case. Later on the Radfords successfully led this reader, at any rate, down the garden path as to the who of the matter, yet the final solution equally does not stray into: ‘whipped out of a hat’ territory. With such a thorough sleuth on the case you can be assured that the guilt is securely fastened on to the correct person, with each clue being highlighted at the end. The Radfords according to the introduction were keen for readers to have all the clues they needed to solve the mysteries themselves and at various points in the text there are challenges to the reader, asking particular questions, which the reader should be able to answer based on the previous narrative. I was quite chuffed that for once in my life I actually managed to answer one of these challenges correctly.
Readers who love a good theatre mystery will also find this an appealing title. Mona puts her previous work experience to good use in this book, with this setting proving to be a successful source of gentle comedy in the piece, such as in the description of an acrimonious actor: ‘though he knew almost everybody in the profession, he had little good to say of any of them other than himself. Unsuccessful and warped actors are not infrequently taken that way.’ There is also the unfortunate understudy who never seems to be able to get a part: ‘Four years I’ve understudied Dick Whittington now, with a never a sound of Bow Bells for me. If it goes on much longer, I’ll be so old when my chance comes they’ll have to wheel me up to Highgate Hill in a bath-chair.’
So all in all a clever and entertaining read with much for the reader to puzzle and ponder over, as well as a good dose of good rug pulling at the end of the story.
Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): At a theatre
Calendar of Crime: September (9) Setting is a place of employment
The Puzzle Doctor also rated this one highly when he reviewed it last month.