The Death Box (1929) by B G Quin

Well, it’s the 1200th review, so here’s something new – an author who I can’t find a single review for on the web.

Enter the Honourable James Clarkson-Parry, war hero, all-round wonderful person and now a private investigator who decides, on meeting Charles Harvey, a soldier who was once under his command, that he needs a “Watson”. Just in time too, as enter a new client, another former man-at-arms, Henry Rothman, with a tale of murderous intrigue.

Rothman had been witness to a meeting of five masked men, which ended with him retrieving an artefact from the assignation, the so-called Death Box, a sealed metal box containing who knows what. He asks Clarkson-Parry for help and protection – but alas it is too late. Rothman is killed the next day and the Death Box has been stolen…

I came across Quin’s name when researching you-know-who’s The Spiked Lion, as Quin was also reprinted in Mystery League magazine. Basil Godfrey Quin was a war-hero – there’s an article on him here – being awarded a Military Cross for the battle at Tower Hamlets ridge. After going into Mathematics teaching (yay!) he penned five detective novels. I don’t know if Clarkson-Parry is the hero in all five books – there are actually quite a few copies of The Death Box knocking around, but no sign of the rest – plus  a Swedish title which translates as “A Quarter To Eight”, and a French translation of The Phantom Murderer. Why he stopped? No idea… The books in question are:

  • The Death Box 1929 (US 1932)
  • The Mystery Of The Black Gate 1930 (reprinted in issue 4 of Mystery League Magazine, 1933)
  • The Murder Rehearsal 1931 (US 1932)
  • The Phantom Murderer 1932
  • Mistigris 1932

The last two might be the wrong way round…

Anyway, the reason I thought I’d take a look, apart from basic curiosity, was that I do keep an eye out for authors that could do with reprinting. We’ve established already quite conclusively that there are good authors out there who disappeared into the ether, so there’s every chance that there are more. Is B G Quin one of them? Well… maybe.

Bear in mind, this is his first book, and he’s clearly a subscriber to the Sherlock Holmes school – the set-up couldn’t be more Holmesian if it tried. Clarkson-Perry is one step ahead of everyone and makes some amazing guesses as to what’s going on at times. For example, Charles is pondering who convened the mysterious meeting, only for said person to knock at the door, as Clarkson-Perry has worked out who it was and invited them to explain themselves – all off-page. He explains vaguely how he tracked them down a bit later, but only after said character has dropped a chapter of exposition on the reader. That happens a couple of times – someone linked to the cabal is tracked down and then they leak information like an extremely leaky thing. There is too much tell and not enough show going on.

The central idea of the Death Box, however, is rather clever – a refined version of Flynn’s The Orange Axe in a way, but even less likely to work – but the reveal of the murderer, while I can see what Quin was going for, did leave this reader feeling a tad cheated.

One thing that’s strange is that there are a number of old soldiers in the book, all of whom look back fondly on the Great War. What’s odder is discovering Quin was a veteran himself – nobody ever mentions any of their acquaintances who actually died in the conflict.

All in all though, this is interesting enough. I’d like to read more of Quin, but that’s not going to happen at the moment. A search online reveals that unless my Swedish improves dramatically (and there’s a good chance that it’s just The Death Box with a weird title anyway) there are no copies out there of the other four books.

So, don’t go looking for Dean Street Press to be reprinting the five books by B G Quin any time soon – they’re too busy getting something else ready for the end of the year. You’ll never guess what… [he said sarcastically].

12 comments

  1. If you’re looking for writers whose work might be republished, might I suggest considering the five detective novels by Beverley Nichols? As far as I can make out, none of them have been in print since the mid-70s. The central character is Horatio Green, who is distinguished by a very sensitive sense of smell.

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  2. Mr Iyer beat me to the stats on Quin who I immediately looked up in Hubin’s Crime Fiction bibliography. Never heard of him, of course. I thought maybe he had more books than those listed. And I wanted to see if his series detective appeared in all books.

    Instead, I’ll offer this tangential remark based on a comment above. I wrote about Beverley Nichols and Horatio Green in Murder in the Closet. I read all five books in that short series for that essay. I enjoyed all of them, but the best of the lot are The Moonflower, The Rich Die Hard and Murder by Request.

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