RogerBW's Blog

The Rasp, Philip MacDonald 11 October 2018

1924 mystery, first in the Anthony Gethryn series. A cabinet minister is beaten to death in his study; Colonel Anthony Gethryn, with a background in intelligence work but now terminally bored, investigates.

Many fictional detectives are to some extent supermen, but Gethryn has effortlessly excelled at everything from his school days onward. It makes him, dare one say it, just a little dull; there's no break in the smooth surface on which to get a purchase, no individual quirk to make him anything other than the author's idealised vision of himself.

'Then—then—you are a 'tective, sir?'

'What exactly I am,' said Anthony, 'God Himself may know. I do not. But you can make five pounds if you want it.'

Well, all right, he falls in Lerve and doesn't immediately get what he wants, but even that seems to be of a piece with the rest; when he offends the lady, she later apologises to him. Two other women are blatant stereotypes, and "Jew" is clearly understood to be a strictly pejorative term. Yes, I know, it was unexceptionable in the era, but that doesn't mean that every writer in the era did it.

The actual mystery story is fairly decent. Everyone has an alibi, and most of those alibis will end up being broken; the wrong man is arrested, and it looks damning; there's plenty of evidence, though some is over-explained, while some is completely omitted during the main narrative. (Because the last fifth or so of the book is Gethryn's detailed reconstruction of how the murder was done, given after the murderer has confessed and been arrested, in the form of a letter written beforehand; all the tension is off, and it verges on the smug.)

Anthony stood up. 'Oh, I know I'm a filthy spy. Don't imagine that I think this private inquiry agent game is anything but noisome. It has been nasty, it will be nasty, and it is nasty, in spite of the cachet of Conan Doyle. I know, none better, that to rifle your room while you were at the inquest this morning was a filthy thing to do. I know that brow-beating you now is filthier—but I'm going to find out who killed your brother.'

What evidence is left in the main story allows one to make a solid balance-of-probabilities accusation, and of course narrative form is an assistance unavailable to the characters; it's not entirely satisfying as a puzzle, but reasonably good as a period piece, and for character even if they're superficially drawn. Overall I found the book enjoyable as something that feels rather different from what was in the process of becoming "mainstream" crime fiction, for all it contains many of the same tropes. (But there's rather too much description of the battered body for this ever to be classed as a "cosy".) I'm not as vastly impressed with MacDonald as was Mark Valentine ("Sleuthing with the Colonel", in Slightly Foxed #43), but I certainly plan to read more.

Followed by The White Crow.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2022 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1