The Dead Voice (1952) by Cecil M Wills

Malcolm Stannaway lies dead and his family – the two halves of his family, from each of his wives – gather to hear who has granted what from the contents of his substantial estate. Given what sort of book this is, clearly it is not a straightforward will. Anyone who is interested in inheriting will need to find the document – and the only information is that it is hidden somewhere on the island where Uncle Malcolm lived, namely Malta.

As the hunt begins, with the large group of relatives soon dividing into factions, they are at a loss as to where to begin to look for the document. Soon, however, things turn nasty, with several “accidents” taking place – and then one member of the family dies. Why was she alone on a boat in a cave and did she fall and crack her head open? Well, obviously not. A murderer is among the family, and luckily Chief Inspector Ellerdine is on the island to track them down…

Well, it’s been a while since I reviewed a “sorry you can’t afford this” book. Cecil M Wills wrote a number of detective mysteries, some featuring Ellerdine. They are as rare as hen’s teeth, with almost all copies knocking around on the internet going for £100 or more, but I’ve gathered together a few titles through lucky purchases. This is only the third that I’ve read, though. Midsummer Murder was very good, The Case Of The Empty Beehive was very disappointing. This one falls somewhere in between.

For a relatively short book, there’s a lot going on. A murder, a treasure hunt, the Maltese setting, a typical Golden Age romance… it’s a read that keeps the reader going but by the end of the day, there’s a bit of a feeling of “was that it?” about it. The murderer is a disappointing choice from the available characters, the motive is a bit weak and the clueing is fairly non-existent. The prose style is nice and light, though, and Wills does a good job of juggling a large cast of distinct characters.

Ellerdine and Detective Sergeant Blossom are fairly light on characteristics, the typical GA policemen. They reminded me a bit of Alleyn and Fox, right down to Ellerdine referring to his partner as “my Blossom” on more than one occasion. They actually feel a little forced into the tale, as Hugh, one of Stannaway’s nephews, is given much more to do in the early sections of the book and could well have managed as the sleuth as well.

So, definitely not worth breaking the bank for, but a perfectly readable mystery should you find a cheap copy. The jury is still out on Wills, although with the prices that some of his books go for, I’m presuming just I haven’t found the right one yet…

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