The Hollow Chest (1941) by Alice Tilton

If you’ve read any of Tilton’s novels before then you know what to expect, with our amateur sleuth and protagonist who is invariably plunged headlong into chaos and confusion. Though I think in this instance, the author has outdone herself in the amount of trouble she lands her character into, within the first few chapters.

Off the page Leonidas Witherall has already got into a scrape with the fifth form boys at the local prep school he owns; a scrape which has the police out looking for them, though thankfully unaware of their identities. I won’t spoil this aspect of the plot for you, as it is ingeniously and absurdly wonderful. With the problem of trying to alibi 16 students on his shoulders, Witherall returns home to find it ransacked, although nothing of value has been taken. At this point Witherall spins himself quite a web of deceit to avoid several short-term difficulties, only to find himself to have been landed in much bigger ones. Namely, the disappearance of one of his pupils, a bound and gag blonde in his bedroom, who then accomplishes her own vanishing act, as well as a series of nonsensical telegrams from an important potential sponsor of the school, which entails numerous misunderstandings and ultimately leaves Witherall with the familiar corpse on his hands. Oh and don’t forget the horse…

Overall Thoughts

Regular readers of Tilton work will be unfazed by this synopsis. I sympathise with the uninitiated, as summarising any Tilton novel is no mean feat. So much has to be left out, yet everything is very much fused together at the same time. If it’s mad, hilarious, zany and just down right bizarre then it will find its way into a Tilton novel. I feel as though everyone should try at least one Witherall mystery, as it will certainly be unlike anything you’ve read before.

As is usual in a Tilton tale, the action is nonstop and the pace frenetic, yet the author never loses her grasp of the various plot threads she is weaving in and out of the narrative. Her knack for characterisation is also present, a talent which makes it way down to the most minor of characters. Everyone feels like they have an individual stamp upon them.

Given my final rating it may surprise you to hear that I think it is the weakest of the five I have read and in fairness, I think this was mostly down to the wartime element of the plot, which didn’t gel with where I was at mood-wise. That and I felt there was a little bit too much aimless running about, which tends to be less visible in the other books I have read.

For new readers wondering where to start, I would probably recommend getting any book you can get a hold of, as unfortunately this series has not been reprinted, recently so second hand copies are the readers’ only recourse. Some titles seem to appear online more expensive than others, though several can be obtained for under £10. I have been reading the series out of order and not come a cropper too much, so I don’t think readers need feel compelled to buy them in chronological order. Though if you are wanting a little more information on Witherall and his various adventures I would recommend reading a post I did last on him.

Rating: 4/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Set during WW1 or WW2

Calendar of Crime: August (4) Academic Setting


  1. Just a mention that for U.S. readers with access to a good interlibrary loan system (especially if you happen to be here in Tilton’s own Massachusetts), libraries may be able to help you with these.

    Hooray for Witherall! I’m sad not have any more left to read. On the bright side, the David Frome that I just finished (Mr. Pinkerton Grows a Beard) had some slightly Tiltonesque moments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the review. 😊 To date I’ve only read ‘The Left Leg’ – and it was slightly to heavily whacky and to lightly clued for my taste. I have some Phoebe Atwood Taylor novels on the shelf, together with Alice Tilton’s ‘Iron Clew’, so it’s hard to say what my next foray into Tilton/Taylor might be. 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well I’m not sure you’d cope with this book then lol The Iron Clew though is probably my highest rated Tilton novel if that is any comfort. The Taylor novel’s may give you a slightly more conventional mystery, though you’ll have to see how you get on with Mayo.


      • Oh dear, is Mayo even more inaccessible than Witherall?! 😨

        I’m looking forward to your next review – I enjoyed the Whitstable Pearl series. 😊


  3. A couple of these are in Kindle, Iron Clew and Beginning With A Bash.
    I have a suspicion I have read The Cut Direct. The Asey Mayo books used to be pretty easy to find, but I have never read one.

    Liked by 1 person

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