Seven Clues In Search Of A Crime (1941) by Bruce Graeme

Theodore Ichabod Terhune (Tommy) was a simple bookseller who finds himself thrust into a bizarre puzzle. Stepping in to prevent some thugs from attacking Helena Armstrong, the secretary to Lady Kylstone, he duly finds himself knocked unconscious, waking up in Helena’s bedroom (as the thugs were scared off and she decided to look after him).

His curiousity is piqued by the fact that there seems to be, on the face of it, no reason for Helena to be attacked. Something must be going on – but what? With the backing of Lady Kylstone, Terhune finds himself investigating… something. As the clues mount up, can he manage to pull them together to find out exactly what crime he is investigating?

This is the first of eight Terhune mysteries by Bruce Graeme, all of them bibliomysteries, one of the first of this subgenre. As such we meet some of the supporting characters who will go on to become regulars in the series, as per the introduction from John Norris (one note – do be careful if you want to be unspoiled with regard to Terhune’s personal life in future books, as he has two unresolved love interests in this book, but you’ll know who he ends up with if you read the intro.)

It’s an innovative structure, with the book divided into eight sections, First Clue, Second Clue, …, Seventh Clue and The Crime. It’s a witty book with something interesting on every page – I wonder, was it originally serialised. as, notably in the earlier sections, there tends to be a recap of what has just happened. I did enjoy in particular the visit to New York City – I’ve been lucky enough to go there myself a couple of times, and Graeme does a great job of conveying the wonder and sheer enjoyment of just walking around the city.

It’s not perfect – there were times towards the end when I had to flick back to remind myself who was who. Perhaps that’s because I read one of the bigger chapters before going to sleep and promptly forgetting most of it, but because a lot of the characters are in absentia, this poor old reader did get a bit confused at the end.

I think I’ll be back for more – I certainly enjoyed Graeme’s prose and the lead character is a charming sort. The series is being reprinted by Moonstone Press and it’s a good choice, with some funky covers too. For another (more glowing) review, do take a look at Cross Examining Crime.

1941 and all that:

One of the reasons I looked at this one is that I’m starting/reviving an ill-defined project on books written in the UK when the outcome of the second World War was uncertain – hence I’m picking books published in 1941, as this one is. Not just those books that use the war as a setting, but also those that choose to ignore it.

This one is interesting as it refers to the current time as “the end of the immediate postwar period of reconstruction”. This is a very odd phrase, unless Graeme was convinced that the war was a foregone conclusion, or he was choosing to ignore it. I suppose he is possibly referring to the Great War, but the phrase “immediate” would seem to counter that argument. So he is going for the optimistic approach, and rather than ignore the conflict, he is setting these books after it. Interesting.

8 comments

  1. Pleased you enjoyed this one and liked the central characters. I found the second book in the series to be weaker just due to the nature of the experiment Graeme undertakes in it. The third book though is the best I have read so far in the series. Really strong on all fronts.

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  2. This is the sort of title that intrigues me immediately: a clever premise that announces its own cleverness in the title (cf. Carr’s The Nine Wrong Answers. I’ll be looking out for this one.

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  3. I’m not such a stickler for verisimilitude in any fiction unless, of course, it is a depiction of historical events. Should you return to the series and read it in order (highly recommended because Graeme gives away the endings of two of the Terhune books in later books) you will discover that Graeme has sort of invented his own history of World War Two and how it was developing. When you look at his use of dates and compare the years mentioned in the stories to the dates when the books were written and published there are major discrepancies. Some later books appear to have taken place in the future! From the viewpoint of a 21st century reader ultimately his invention of the culmination of WW2 compared to how it actually turned makes Graeme appear to be prophetic. Other readers have pointed this out in their reviews. I was too busy studying the books as bibliomysteries and Graeme’s abundant literary allusions to notice the mystery of the dates when I read all the books for the intros I wrote for Moonstone Press. Curt Evans, as a historian first and foremost, would definitely have noticed the discrepancies and come up with insightful remarks about it all. Hope you enjoy the other books when you get to them.

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  4. Terhune is an unusual name: there are less than 5000 in the world. It reminded me of a detective in a 1960s D C Thomson comic. Paul Terhune first appeared in the Wizard also in 1941. I wonder if there is a connection?

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    • Mere coincidence. Graeme was a prolific writer of intense imagination who began writing books in the mid 1920s. Extremely doubtful he was influenced by comic books by this midpoint in his writing career. If anything comic writers were influenced by his characters. Graeme created Blackshirt who appeared in numerous Uk Comic books long after the original short stories and novels were first published.

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  5. But would he have written short stories for the Wizard ? These were text (30,000 words)not comic strips. Maybe they liked the name and copied it.

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  6. I enjoyed your review. Having read all the reissues , I would say to new readers that this is a good one ,but do try them all ..but in order, so as not to spoil certain on going developments. In particular Graeme’s use of rural Kent settings and a developing cast of local people. Similar to that done by E Charles Vivian a few years earlier.

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