Quickly Dead (1937) by Belton Cobb

There was confusion at the Hortonchurch Institute when Edward Barber never arrived one evening to give a talk that he had been invited to. The confusion deepened when his car was found abandoned at the end of a lane miles away, the lane leading to a small collection of cottages. His body was found strangled in a ditch a mile up the lane outside the cottages – but why would he abandon his speaking engagement, park his car and then walk a mile to his death?

When Superintendent Cox enlists Scotland Yard, in the shape of Inspector Cheviot Burmann, the mystery comes down to which of four suspects did the deed. The crime, however, is split by a duality – the plan was clearly premeditated, and yet how on Earth did the murderer know that Barber would be where he was when he was killed? Burmann thinks he knows the truth – but is the wrong person heading for the gallows?

Quickly Dead is the fourth outing for Cheviot Burmann, and he finally has a case to sink his teeth into that doesn’t involve poisoning. It has the familiar (to me at least) of Cobb’s work, with a small closed circle of suspects. This outing doesn’t give a physical reason for the closed circle, just there are four people who knew the victim and might or might not have a motive. Unfortunately for Burmann, none of them had the opportunity to do it, although this isn’t a train-timetable alibi buster, some of you will be pleased to hear.

Given that the suspects never seem to meet each other, there is an significant number of conversations going on here. Cheviot talks to a suspect, Cheviot talks to another suspect, Cheviot talks to Superintendent Cox, Cheviot talks to himself – and there is a point where you really want him to get on with it. Thankfully, Cobb just about gets the timing right as it wasn’t long after this point that things did get moving. There is a very effective sequence where Burmann outlines his reasoning to the apparently somewhat dim Superintendent Cox only for Cox to riddle this theory with holes.

I don’t think the central trick that the whole thing hinges on is as clever as in Fatal Dose, the preceding title, but I still missed it, and didn’t feel daft that I didn’t. I don’t think this is ever going to go down in the annals of history as a highlight of the genre, but this is still an entertaining read. But, as ever, good luck finding a copy…

Oh, and I’ve no idea what the title means…

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