I've written several times in this blog of my admiration for Anthony Berkeley, and I've also mentioned his contemporary and Detection Club colleague Milward Kennedy, whose approach to the genre reminds me of Berkeley's. Kennedy was another who liked to mix detection with humour, and he was also keen on experimentation.
My choice for today's Forgotten Book is a novel Kennedy published in 1930, Death in a Deck-Chair. It opens with a brief but very interesting introduction, in which Kennedy discusses the nature of detective fiction with a friend. He then describes how the conversation gave him the idea of taking the essential features of an actual case and reinventing it for fictional purposes, making use of his personal knowledge of police procedure, gained while working in Military Intelligence in the First World War.
Kennedy acknowledges at the outset that "complete realism" is out of the question – "is a novel pursued each possible clue to its final conclusion, it would run into volumes". This is the dilemma that succeeding generations of crime writers have grappled with. Unfortunately, it has to be said that this pioneering novel struggles to maintain a balance between plausibility and entertainment.
The body of the man who is found stabbed in a deck-chair at a seaside resort turns out to belong to a blackmailer who dies unmourned. The investigation moves slowly, and although Kennedy tries to compensate with humorous dialogue, for a modern reader the material simply isn't amusing enough to justify the lack of pace. In the latter stages of the book, things move more quickly, but overall the quality of the story does not remotely match that of books such as The Murder at the Vicarage, which was published in the same year. Yet Kennedy deserves a good deal of credit, I think, for his attempts to move the detective story forward from the straightforward puzzle. Unfortunately, in this book at least, the idea was stronger than the implementation.