My latest entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books for Friday is Who Goes Hang?, the debut novel of Stanley Hyland. Published in 1958, it was later described by Erik Routley, in his idiosyncratic survey of the ‘puritan pleasures’ of detective fiction as perhaps the last in the line of the ‘real sexless cerebral’ detective stories.
This was a novel which gained much from its author’s knowledge of the setting. Hyland was a Yorkshireman who went to work in the Houses of Parliament as a research librarian, and his book opens with the discovery by Fred Armytage, a workman carrying out repairs to the Clock Tower, of a mummified corpse in the wall cavity beneath Big Ben's bell chamber. The body is that of a man about 40, dressed in the clothes of the mid-nineteenth century. The crushing of the skull indicates that murder has been done.
Amongst those attending the inquest - conducted by the Coroner of the Royal Household and quite splendidly described - is a young M.P. called Hubert Bligh. He becomes intrigued by the case and gathers together a non-partisan committee of M.P.s to investigate further, with each member following a different line of research.
This is only the start of a neatly constructed story. The way in which Hyland feeds into his narrative substantial chunks of history without distracting interest from the central puzzle is especially interesting - the more so when one reads his note at the end of the book, which reveals just how much fact there is within the fiction. It even appears that repairs were indeed effected to the Clock Tower in l956, although not with the dramatic results that occurred in the novel.
Stanley Hyland only wrote two more crime novels, neither comparable to this one. He became heavily involved in politics and television. He was close to Harold Wilson and produced several of his election broadcasts. He was also involved in early TV shows focusing on do-it-yourself. A man of many talents, he died in 1997, at the age of 82.