I’ve previously covered R.C.Woodthorpe in the Forgotten Books series, and today I’m returning to this currently obscure writer who was, for a few years, quite close to the top of the tree. But Woodthorpe’s career was short, and it’s symptomatic of the neglect into which he has fallen that, although he was an early recruit to the Detection Club, he has been missed off the list of members for a number of years!
Death in a Little Town was the first of two books he published in the mid-Thirties which featured Miss Matilda Perks (the other is A Shadow on the Downs, which I haven’t yet tracked down - this one is available on the Hathi site and I am really indebted to Christos for directing me to it.) Miss Perks is a sharp-tongued former schoolteacher who lives with her brother Robert and a loquacious parrot called Ramsay Macdonald. She does not, however, operate in this story as an amateur sleuth in the Jane Marple mould, though she is perceptive and inquisitive. When, ultimately, she discovers the truth, she keeps quiet about it.
The story concerns the battering to death, by a spade, of an unpleasant wealthy man called Bonar. He is a landowner in the Sussex town of Chesworth, and it is pretty clear that what really interested Woodthorpe was portraying the town and its people, rather than setting an elaborate puzzle to be solved. The key characters include a novelist and an eccentric bachelor, but no attempt is made to characterise Bonar, and thus it is difficult to care about what happened to him.
Woodthorpe was, I think, not a natural detective novelist. He was primarily interested in social comedy. There is a lot of dialogue in this book that does not take the story forward, though to some extent it portrays the people of the story entertainingly and amusingly. That, I’m afraid, wasn’t enough for me to love this story, but Woodthorpe could write well, and it’s a pity that inspiration started to desert him after only a handful of books.