My last entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books featured a title from the pen of Richard Hull. This week, the focus is on novel written by another disciple of Anthony Berkeley/Francis Iles. Clerical Error has also appeared as The Vicar’s Experiments, and it has been published under two different names – first as by Anthony Rolls, and then under Rolls’ real name, C.E. Vulliamy.
Vulliamy wrote, among other things, biography and satire. It is his satiric instinct which prevails in the opening chapter, when a seemingly inoffensive cleric snaps during a conversation with a disagreeable loudmouth:
‘Up to a quarter past three, Mr Pardicott might have been described as the gentlest of rural clergymen; at twenty minutes past three he was a criminal of the most dangerous kind. In a dizzy moment of revelation he saw that he had been chosen by the Inscrutable Purpose to be the destroyer of Colonel Cargoy.’
Alas, even when the murder of Colonel Cargoy has been accomplished, Pardicott does not rest content….
Vulliamy wrote a number of other crime novels. I’ve read one of them, Don Among the Dead Men, which follows a broadly similar pattern. I wouldn’t claim either book is a masterpiece. In each case, there is a neat initial idea, and some witty writing, but (at least, for a modern reader) the plot isn't complex or credible enough for the whole novel to live up to the promise of the early pages. But they have, at the very least, a deal of interest for readers fascinated in the development of the genre. Vulliamy was no Ruth Rendell, but he was no mug, either.