Slippery Ann by H C Bailey

slippery annIn the coastal town of Sturton, Inspector Hall is investigating an attack on Jessica Parker, a secretary who was pushed into a quarry – she was left crippled and unable to continue working for a local businessman, Arthur Trensham. Meanwhile, lawyer Josh Clunk is called to defend a case of burglary. Soon, however, the trail of that case begins to point towards Sturton…

And in Sturton, two young explorers make a horrifying discovery in a deep cave system – a dead body. And a blackmarket ring starts to emerge, the bodies start to pile up too. But who is the so-called Slippery Ann – the brains behind everything?

It’s #1944book on Crimes Of The Century on Past Offences this month and I’ve gone for this book (obviously). H C Bailey is best known for his short stories featuring Reggie Fortune, but also wrote eleven novels featuring Josh(ua) Clunk. Apparently, his opus was in that series was The Sullen Sky Mystery. It sure as heck wasn’t this one…

It’s incredibly dull – a number of the suspects barely seem to appear in person, which made it rather hard to remember who was who. In fact, every time I put the book down, I almost instantly forgot what I had just read. Something about the narrative just made it instantly forgettable.

The setting is rather odd – is the country at war or not? While there are possibly German spies knocking around in the background, nobody seems to act as if there’s a war on. I know in 1944, the threat of invasion had died away, but the attitude in general seems very strange to me.

This is a pretty obscure book – it’s got an alternate title of The Queen Of Spades, a reference to an alternate name to the card game Slippery Ann aka Old Maid – I can’t find a single review of it elsewhere on the interweb under either title. But I really can’t recommend it at all. Unlike in the case of a bunch of John Rhode titles, there may well be a good reason this hasn’t been reissued recently…

And whose idea was it to print it in 9 point type? Makes it even harder to read…


  1. I’ve never really got on with Bailey, although admittedly I haven’t read Sullen Sky. But I read The Shadow on the Wall because it was supposed to be a masterpiece, and it just seemed dull and unremarkable. Your comments about the war are interesting. There are a lot of writers who seem to think it’s enough to establish the setting in chapter one and then rely on that to somehow magically pervade the rest of the book.


    • It’s somewhat later than that – basically about halfway through, the possibility of German spies is mentioned – there’s one character who has returned (early) frpm the fighting, but that’s all…


  2. oh dear, not a great read then? I’ve only read Bailey’s Black Land White Land, a novel featuring Reggie Fortune. Can’t say it made me want to return to this author. But this one really does sounds very odd!


  3. Well, congratulations for finishing the book !
    I also thought of reviewing this book for Past Offences, but I found it so dull and tedious that I gave up after reading about 20% !


  4. Thanks so much for the review; I had never even heard of this H.C. Bailey title before you discussed it here. It’s interesting that no one posting has expressed a fondness yet for Bailey’s writing: even Martin Edwards — very nice interview with him, by the way — professes his frustration with Clunk’s dialogue and the author’s sputtery narratives when he discusses Bailey in The Golden Age of Murder.

    I read The Sullen Sky Mystery a few decades ago, on Nick Fuller’s recommendation, and remember nothing about it except that it was rough to get through and that I never felt compelled to try the author again. While that might be an unfair dismissal, your review of Slippery Ann seems to support the view…

    And speaking of 9-point font, my copy of The Sullen Sky Mystery is a similar tight, tiny text layout, and it still manages to be 308 pages long!


    • Thanks Jason. I’ll be back to Bailey next month as I named one of the Fortune short story collections as one of my 20 Books Of Summer – let’s see how that goes…


  5. Good luck with the Reggie Fortune collection! I’ve read a few of Bailey’s short stories, and they seem more accessible than his novels, perhaps because the prose is administered in comparatively small doses. I look forward to reading your review —


  6. “And whose idea was it to print it in 9 point type? Makes it even harder to read…”

    One reason I will never buy wartime books published by Gollancz. Their idea to save even more paper was also to decrease the font size to something that practically requires a magnifying glass for anyone – whether nearsighted or with healthy vision. You’ll find this for any of their books published between1949 and 1946.

    No surprise no review of this book turned up. I don’t think Bailey is popular at all on *any* book blog let alone those that focus on crime fiction, vintage or otherwise. Every now and then someone will review a Reggie Fortune collection. I liked most of the tales in CLUE FOR MR FORTUNE but I did skip one altogether because it was inane for the first three pages.


    • Who else was published by Gollancz at this time so that I don’t have to repeat the eyestrain again? Thanks for that bit of publishing info, John.

      I suppose an obvious question must be that if nobody seemed to rate Bailey’s novels, how on earth did they get published?


    • Well, the general unfollowability and dullness of the plot would have made me chuck it if it wasn’t for a lack of #1944 alternatives – although something’s turned up that should be an improvement…

      Liked by 1 person

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