Alibi Innings (1954) by Barbara Worsley-Gough

The highlight of Squire Elliot’s year was the cricket match between his eleven and the village team. It was a pity his wife didn’t feel the same way. But that wasn’t the only issue anyone had with Elizabeth Elliot. There were few people in the village who had anything particularly nice to say about the septuagenarian author of trashy novels, and she didn’t particularly care. Until of course, someone smashed her head in during the match…

Enter the police, but they seem incapable of solving the mystery of who murdered Elizabeth. In fact, who exactly is trying to solve the case?

I got a small bundle of Green Penguins the other day, a nice haul containing one that doesn’t seem to be available on Abebooks at all. Not this one, it’s reasonably available, but I thought I’d take a look, partly because of the title. Is it a pun? A play on words? I can only think of one rationale based on the plot, but even then, it’s hardly crucial.

According to the frontispiece, Barbara Worsley-Gough wrote at least eight other novels, but according to gadetection.com, the only other mystery was the later Lantern Hill. I don’t know what genre the others were, but it does explain a lot about this book if they weren’t mystery novels. Mainly because this isn’t much of one either.

Most of the opening half of the book is a detailed telling of the cricket match. I won’t deny there’s a certain wit about the writing – it’s not great, but it’s perfectly readable – but I wonder who it’s written for. Is there really a large enough intersection in the Venn Diagram of readers of classic crime fiction and fans of cricket there? While the cricket match goes on, and is described in some detail, there’s a couple of mismatched couples who need to sort their love-lives out. And, dear writer, if you think I’m going to feel sympathy to a character who refers to her uncle, the Squire, as Squuncle, you are very sadly mistaken.

Again, to be fair, it starts off with some brightness in the writing, but a mystery needs more than that. It needs a coherent mystery, for first thing, whereas the whodunit element strand seems to be less of a concern than who is going to end up with who (and if you can’t spot that, have you not read a book before?) It doesn’t help that there isn’t really a sleuth. There’s a police detective who might be supposed to be supposed to be sleuth, one of the cricketers acts for a bit in the role of amateur detective but doesn’t get anywhere, and in the end, a convenient confession stops the police from arresting the wrong person – the person anything resembling clues might have pointed towards. And the motive is terrible.

Some entertaining dialogue – and I do mean “some” and not “all” – does not make a good mystery and I can’t help wondering is this was ever meant to me a murder mystery, rather than a comedy of manners that happens to have an unexplained death in it. My trawl through obscure crime authors for the next Brian Flynn continues…

7 comments

  1. I also have the green penguin of this and despite being both a detective fiction and cricket lover it didn’t rise above 2nd division stuff for me. Currently trying out Cecil Freeman Gregg to see if he might be worth exploring more fully.

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  2. I’m in the Venn diagram too! Cricket is a bit like classic detection fiction, you know. Used to be immensely popular in the UK during the golden age, but is not so much now…

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      • The only other two I can think of off the top of my head are Death Before Wicket by Nancy Spain and The Great Test Match Crime by, er, someone. Not read either of them, though…

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  3. I like this a lot more than you did! And, believe me, not the cricket. But I like the social detail and, of course, the clothes, and there is an excellent character called Mrs Ford, in a line of entertaining older females in crime stories. I was sufficiently interested to read Lantern Hill, her other one, but can’t remember much about it – I think it might have featured modern (well, 1950s) pop music. It’s been on my desk for a couple of years, while I wonder whether I should do a post on it.

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