They Can’t Hang Me by James Ronald

Lucius Marplay has spent the past twenty years in an asylum – with good reason, as he has been diagnosed with homicidal mania. He has made countless threats against the four men who took over The Echo, the London newspaper that he himself once owned – and, as there wouldn’t be much of a story otherwise, he has escaped!

As his daughter, having just discovered that her father is in fact alive and insane, rather than dead, as she had always been told, endeavours to track him down to talk sense into him, he begins his scheme of revenge. But as the four newspaper men begin to die one by one, can anyone catch this clever murderer, a murderer capable of vanishing into thin air?

This one was recommended to me by JJ over at The Invisible Event – James Ronald, it seems, is well on the way to becoming his Brian Flynn – but this was an interesting experience for me, as knowing nothing about the writer at all, I had little idea of what sort of book I was reading.

For example, when one reads The ABC Murders, does anyone actually believe that Cust is the primary villain of the piece? No, because of what readers expect when they read Agatha Christie. But here, with a clear villain on display, so many questions assail the reader due to a lack of familiarity with the author.

  • Is this a whodunit?
  • Is this a how-did-he-do-it?
  • Is it both?
  • Is Alastair MacNab, an over-the-top Scotsman the series sleuth, or a one-off character who could be a suspect?

All of these questions were buzzing round my head as I read it. As it happened, I guessed the answers to those questions correctly, but it does add an extra level of mystery to the whole thing. Which is good, because…

… put it this way, there is a mystery to be solved here of some description, but it isn’t going to trouble the well-read armchair sleuth. Well, it didn’t trouble me much anyway. But on the other hand, there’s a lot else to enjoy here. There’s some particularly Golden Age behaviour here – Marplay’s daughter being told he is dead rather than insane, some dubious behaviour on her part to find her father, the typical lightning-quick romance – but it’s told very well, with some lovely touches. I can see a cynic getting rather grumpy over some of the unlikely behaviour – one of my favourite little bits was our heroine’s guardian standing over her while she slept smoking a cigarette, as fag-ash is dropped on our plucky gel’s face. Absolute nonsense that she just accepts it, but it fits the vaguely eccentric tone of the book.

All in all, this is a fun read, made better by not knowing what sort of mystery I was reading.

Just The Facts, Ma’am: WHO: A Journalist/Writer

Availability: Well, if you’ve got twenty quid knocking around, there are some second hand copies…


  1. It’s fair to say that, when I start getting excited and throwing around five star ratings, virtually anyone else who reads that book won’t see it in quite as glowing terms as I did, but, man, I love this book. It’s pulpy, it’s OTT, and I had a wild time with the various puzzles you suggest: who is the detective, and how much am I being played for a sucker?, etc.

    Anyway, I’l avoid repeating myself: my thoughts are here if anyone is interested.


    • Sorry, forgot to put the link in to your review.

      There will be a couple more Ronald reviews soonish. Now that I’ve got an idea of him, it’ll be interesting to see what his their stuff is like.

      And yes, I really enjoyed this one, but I wonder, if I knew what sort of book this was, would I have spotted what was going on even earlier?


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