Few crime books by notable writers are as forgotten as my Forgotten Book for today, No Walls of Jasper by Joanna Cannan, first published in 1930. Yet the book's neglect is in many ways astonishing, because not only was it ahead of its time, it is also very well-written, and reads extremely well more than 80 years after it first came out. I can only blame its lack of fame on the title, which is taken from a poem by Humbert Wolfe (who? you may ask - he was apparently very popular in the Twenties), and which is rather off-putting and inappropriate.
In some ways, the book is in the same vein as Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles. Yet the Iles book came out a year later, so it was hardly derivative. Another comparison might be with C.S. Forester's earlier novel, Payment Deferred, or possibly Lynn Brock's later Nightmare. But Cannan's book is distinctive, because of its stylish and readable prose, and because a competent plot is in many ways subordinate to a study of character.
Julian Prebble works for a publishing house, and is fed up with his pretty but down-trodden wife, Phyl. He has two sons, of whom he is a proud but distant father, and he does not earn enough to be able to impress a coquettish author on his list, the glamorous Cynthia. However, he does have a rich and rather disagreeable father, and when it occurs to Julian that his Dad's demise would solve all his problems, his thoughts turn to murder.
I really enjoyed this one. It's a book to savour, because Cannan's description of people and relationships, and Julian's desperate quest for respectability ring so true, even so many years later. Joanna Cannan wrote other mysteries, which I haven't read, but if they are half as good as this book, they must be worth reading. She became better known for children's books, and her daughters became famous writers of pony stories. And perhaps that's another reason why No Walls of Jasper has for so long been overlooked. Writers so easily get pigeon-holed, and that is a real shame.