Upstairs in the Blue Boar, Lulverton, the local police detectives are having a get-together – a “stag party” in fact, but not that sort of thing – apparently that term was used for an all-male get-together in 1948. Anyway, the get-together is interrupted by Jimmy Hooker, a local lowlife who seems to have some important information to share. Hooker, put off by the sheer number of officers, retreats downstairs to the main bar… and soon collapses, dead of cyanide poisoning.
But how did the poison get into his glass? Only a few people were close enough to do the deed, but surely someone would have noticed it. One person had a clear opportunity – but after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly, he is found the next morning… yup, dead of cyanide poisoning.
As the local police, Inspectors Bradfield and Charlton, investigate, can they find a murderer who can strike without detection?
Well, also a murderer who is stupid enough to leave a convenient fingerprint so they can be convicted once their identity has been deduced so they can be convicted… A little lazy, that bit, but it’s one of the few niggles about this one.
My thanks to John Norris for the tip on this one – he suggested that I’d enjoy it based on Witting’s style of writing, given my enjoyment of Brian Flynn and John Rhode, and he was absolutely right. After waded through the dry prose of Milward Kennedy, it was so refreshing to encounter another writer like Flynn, Rhode, Quentin, etc with a fun turn of phrase on every page.
Witting wrote sixteen mystery novels between 1937 and 1964 and if the British Library or Dean Street Press are listening, he’s a prime target for a re-release. It’s such an entertaining read – a highlight is Bradfield cheekily assigning a bodyguard to “protect” a main suspect, severely hampering his criminal activities. The policeman’s inflexible politeness at every attempt by the crook to escape even for a minute or two is hilarious.
The suspects are nicely developed, and while the murderer did catch my eye quite early (just guesswork, really), I missed the method of murder despite it being fairly clued. It’s a variant on a trick that’s been done before, but it is a clever variant.
Unfortunately, Witting is not an easy author to get hold of. There are a couple of copies of There Was A Crooked Man but he’s definitely an author I’ll be looking out for in the future. So, obviously, this is Highly Recommended. Thanks, John!