Meet Philip Sevilla, a distinctly unpleasant half-English, half-Spanish ne’er-do-well. He makes his money by seducing young dancers, whisking them off to Paris, dumping them in such a way that they end up signing their lives away to end up dancing in the halls of Buenos Aires. Apparently this is very profitable (what sort of turnover does he have?) and nobody suspects a thing despite the fact that the women all seem to come from the dance hall that he owns in London.
Anyway, when he sets his eye on Betsy Findon, he gets more than he bargained for in the form of Colin Derwent. Derwent decides that the only way to save the woman he loves is to murder Sevilla and indeed commits the perfect murder – in a dream. But can he repeat the feat in reality?
I picked up a bundle of Green Penguins on eBay the other day and when bragging of the haul on the GAD Facebook group, a couple of fellow Golden Age enthusiasts suggested I start with this one. To be honest, more people suggested I start with the Cyril Hare titles in my haul, but this isn’t a democracy…
It’s an odd book. The title comes from the shenanigans that Derwent cooks up to create an unbreakable alibi for the attempted crime but I won’t go into details as that happens in the latter half of the book. Once the crime is attempted, it then falls to Pember and Brace of Scotland Yard to sort things out.
It started out as a Broadway play in 1934, running for 89 performances – this was written by Armstrong. There followed a British film in 1935. The book was published in 1934 – I guess Shaw helped with the novelisation of the play script but I don’t know for sure. There is also another 1946 film, a 1950 BBC production (with the wonderful Patrick Macnee as Derwent) and another production by ITV this time in 1956 as their “Play For The Week”. After this deluge of productions, there doesn’t seem to have been any since then. Note that none of these credit Shaw, so he must only be linked to the novelisation. The notion of the book of the play – was that common? I know films get novelisations, or they used to at least, but this seems to have appeared very quickly… Armstrong wrote several other novels, from 1920 to 1973 but I have no information about these titles. There is some info on Wikipedia but as the page doesn’t mention the existence of the stage play origins of Ten Minute Alibi, trust it as you will. As for Herbert Shaw, he may be the same man who wrote The Man Who Lived Twice. Or he might not be – I know nothing else about him…
It’s rather fun, but the scheme and its fallout get more and more complex, and to be honest, I didn’t really follow the last chapter when it looks like Colin may or may not get caught. The general shape of the ending, though, is basically as you might predict from the halfway mark.
So no huge surprises here, but it’s an entertaining quick read. If you’re passing a huge pile of Green Penguins, then you could do a lot worse.