‘The Lost Policeman’ (1939) by Milward Kennedy

Atypically for me I am reviewing just one short story today, which was gifted to me.

The first page of Milward Kennedy's short story 'The Lost Policeman'. It has a drawing of a man looking at a book of finger prints using a magnifying glass.

Before you call your local major crimes unit, I did not tear this story from the collection it came from. This was how it was sold. It seems that someone on eBay was selling off some kind of Lilliput magazine anthology, one story at a time. I am not sure which specific collection it originated from nor whether the anthology had a crime and mystery theme in its entirety. If anyone has any further info do let me know!

Milward Kennedy (Milward Rodon Kennedy Burge) is not an author I have encountered much, mainly because of the lack of reasonably priced copies. When I looked online for more information about this short story, I did not find it listed on the author’s Wikipedia page. However, I did track it down via this website: http://www.philsp.com/homeville/fmi/n04/n04159.htm#A9 .This seems to have a fuller list of the short stories Kennedy produced.

As to novels, between 1928 and 1952, he published 20. Two of these were contributions to Detection Club projects: The Floating Admiral (1931) and Ask a Policeman (1933) and these mysteries are the only experiences of his writing that I have had.

Kennedy’s first mystery novel, The Bleston Mystery (1928), was also a collaborative venture, as he wrote it with A. G. Macdonell, and he published it under the name Robert Milward Kennedy. He also wrote three novels under the penname Evelyn Elder. His two series characters were Inspector Cornford and a private investigator named Sir George Bull. Neither of these two appear in today’s story. Interestingly, one of the jobs Kennedy held during his lifetime was reviewer of mystery fiction for The Sunday Times and The Guardian. I have occasionally come across some of his reviews, such as his one for Anthony Berkeley’s Panic Party (1934), but it is a shame that there is no collection of these reviews, as there are for Todd Downing, Dorothy L. Sayers and Anthony Boucher.

The story is roughly 5 ½ pages long, so I can’t say much about the plot for obvious reasons. The central focus of the story is why a successful French policeman, Henri Lebeau, resigns from his job and disappears. The reason for this is linked to a book on fingerprints and the writer also mentions in the opening paragraphs that ‘the truth is that he was the victim of his own conscientiousness.’ I will say no more!

When it comes to classifying this short story, I would say it is a crime story in a looser sense. The tracking down of the missing policeman is something which occurs off the page and before he is found the reader knows the causes behind the policeman’s disappearance. The focus of the story is a comedic one and the way our greatest virtues can become our greatest foibles. Given the great skill of the detective who is tripped up by his own conscience, I was reminded of the Sherlock Holmes parodies of the late 19th and early 20th century. I felt there was a similarity of tone.

Given the scarcity/price of his novels I was not surprised that there are not many reviews of his work, outside of the Detection Club collaborations. However, I thought it might be useful to have the reviews that do exist for the other novels listed in this post, and if I have missed you off the list, please add your links below.

Plus, I came across this review for the short story ‘Death in the Kitchen’.

If you have read a good mystery by Kennedy, then do share your recommendations. It is hard to know which titles to seek out when there is not much information to go on. Given the renewed interest in Golden Age Detective fiction, it is intriguing that this author has not benefitted from it. Is there an issue with the rights? Are the books just not that good? It is rather hard to tell from very foggy memories of the Detection Club collaborations and one short story, which is told well enough. Moreover, I have other dim memories that Dorothy L. Sayers did not write glowing reviews of his work.

10 comments

  1. The only mystery by Milward Kennedy that I have read was HALF-MAST MURDER but you wanted good mysteries and that one does not qualify. It has a decent set-up but absolutely no excitement or ability to arouse interest. Nothing like a JDC atmosphere or startling occurence.

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  2. So nice to read your review of a Milward Kennedy short story, Kate! (And very funny/strange that someone is ripping apart an anthology to sell stories a la carte…) Thank you kindly for mentioning my reviews. As with Ron and Laurie above, HALF-MAST MURDER is decidedly tedious but THE MURDERER OF SLEEP is much better, a gentle parody of the genre engagingly told. So I’m still undecided about Kennedy, and should search around for another book of his to build a consensus….

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    • Yes when my gift giver explained why I had a short story torn out of a book, I was surprised, as I didn’t know people did that lol Good to know that Half Mast Murder is one to avoid, but that The Murderer of Sleep is a better option.

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  3. Milward Kennedy was a well-regarded second-tier writer (The Manchester Evening News thought one of his books “challenged comparison with any of the six best of all time”), but his books are hard to come by. I’ve read three or four; The Murderer of Sleep was by far the best. I didn’t like Bull’s Eye or Corpse in Cold Storage, the two Sir George Bull stories.

    His major works seem to be:

    The Corpse on the Mat (1929) – Sayers liked it
    Corpse Guard Parade (1930) – Will Cuppy: “a considerable surprise awaits the reader”

    Death to the Rescue (1931) – dedicated to Anthony Berkeley; praised by Philip Macdonald and E. C. Bentley; COC: “interesting and unusual”

    The mid-1930s books seem to be go down the Ilesian path; they were praised for characterization and naturalism: Poison in the Parish (1935); Sic Transit Gloria (1936); I’ll Be Judge, I’ll Be Jury (1937).

    The post-WWII books are thrillers.

    Half-Mast Murder may be one of his weaker books; Barzun and Taylor liked others of his much more.

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    • Thank you for this overview Nick. It is helpful to have some pointers on dead losses and strong possibilities of a good read, if I ever the chance to buy any that is! Also useful to know about the change in style after WW2. Do we know why he stopped writing novels in 1952?

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