Reprint of the Year Nomination – The Woman In The Wardrobe

For the past two years, my corner of the crime fiction blogging world had run the Reprint Of The o0Year award, curated by Kate over at Cross Examining Crime. There is such a strong line in reprinting lost crime fiction these days, led by the British Library Crime Classics range, along with Dean Street Press, Agora Books, Penzler…

Oh, before I go on, a quick request – can US publishers think about the UK (and other countries) ebook market? So many books aren’t available easily over here, which kind of makes getting excited about them being reprinted redundant. Thanks.

Right, back to the awards.

I was delighted last year when not only did my two nominations came first and second, but the winner was The Mystery Of The Peacock’s Eye, a book that I had a significant hand in getting reprinted. I might have mentioned that before once or twice…

Kate will be collating the reviews later this weekend – I’ll put a link HERE once she does – but in the meantime, I’d better get round to my first nomination.

Collectors are odd beasts. Some are determined to get their hands on pristine dustjacketed versions of the books they want, and are willing to pay prices that you wouldn’t believe to get that. Others are happy with any version provided the words are in the right order. But some books are next to unfindable in any condition whatsoever, and one of those books was The Woman In The Wardrobe by Peter Shaffer under the pseudonym Peter Antony.

‘A corpse in a blood-soaked room; a locked door and a locked window; a masked man; a beautiful girl trussed inside a wardrobe; and now a pretender to the throne! This is superb!’

The book had a reputation of being a long lost classic, and it, and it’s two sequels, co-written with Peter’s brother, Antony, have long been sought after by collectors, those of who knew about it, that is. I’d never heard about it until it appeared in the British Library catalogue, but it immediately piqued my interest. Shaffer wrote a play/film that I love, namely Sleuth, so I was excited to see what his crime fiction was like.

As I said in my review, it’s not perfect. The set-up, of an almost locked room (there are some shenanigans with people climbing in and out of the window) with someone tied up inside the wardrobe, possibly oblivious to the murder happening outside of it is delightful, with a vague nod to The Judas Window with a sole character locked in with the dead body. The book has a comic tone, with the plot having more than a passing resemblance to a West End farce. Having said that, the character of King Richard IV is far less funny that the author thinks they are and could do with a much lower page count.

To be honest, this would work much better as a long novella, but it’s a very entertaining read and has a clever plot device for the impossibility. More importantly, unlike some reprints that you might find out there, this is a book that getting reprinted was a genuine achievement for the British Library, a book that some people have spent years looking for a copy of, and thankfully was worth the wait. I gather the other two Peter Antony books have some issues with rights, but I do hope these can be resolved.

Should this be Reprint of the Year? Possibly. But there is another good candidate, in my opinion, but you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what…

6 comments

  1. Unfortunately, the difficulty in finding books works both ways. I often can’t get a book in the US or can’t get it until much later unless I order direct from the UK (which I do). And even more unfortunately, this book seems to have been pulled in both places temporarily–after I ordered it! Even my faithful UK ordering site now lists it as coming out in May (as I recall). I’ll have to come back to your review late spring. And too bad, because I looked forward to it (although you seem a bit *yawn* about it).

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  2. This is certainly a very useful reprint, as you say, second hand copies are very hard to find and when you do there are far too many zeros in the price. I am interested to read the other books. I hope the rights get sorted out.

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  3. Hmm. Interesting sounding book, so I go online to look up copies: none available at Amazon, Waterstones, Book Depository… Out of print within six months of release? Not sure this really ought to qualify for reprint of the YEAR.

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      • If nothing else, the coverage of it can convince a collector whether it would be worth investing in it. I think the issue with the book is that it feels like a novelised stage play in its structure, complete with comic relief character. There are issues with the pacing, but it’s plus points far outweigh the negatives.

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