Friday, 16 August 2013

Forgotten Book - Keep It Quiet

Richard Hull, who has featured in my series of Forgotten Books a number of times already, is again the man responsible for today's choice. Keep It Quiet, published in 1935, was a prompt follow-up to his highly successful debut, The Murder of My Aunt. Again, the story-line is unusual, although it's fair to say that, as with so many writers who make a brilliant start, he did not find the second book as straightforward.

Keep It Quiet is set in a gentleman's club in London, and Hull was writing about what he knew, since apparently he was not only a member of such a club, but actually lived there at one time. Biographical details about Hull are fairly scant, mostly confined to bios on the back of a few Penguin editions of his work. I'd be interested to know more about him. He certainly had a sharp sense of humour. The setting gives him plenty of chances to amuse himself and his readers about clubland life. There's quite a funny joke about his own weight, smuggled in to chapter 29, which only makes sense if you know that Hull's real name was Richard Henry Sampson.

A club member appears to have been poisoned by the club cook, and the hapless club secretary decides to embark on a cover-up, with the assistance of a member who happens to be a doctor.This unwise course of action has far-reaching repercussions, and soon it seems that the lives of other members are under threat. The identity of the bad guy (there are no female characters of any significance) is clear from a relatively early stage, and the main question is how the situation will be sorted out, and whether anyone else will die before the end.

There's a neat variation on a familiar solution which introduces the laws of Latvia (of all things) and there's a general quirkiness about the book that works fairly well. The downside, as often with Hull, is that his amusing central idea needed to be stretched out somewhat to result in a full-length novel. Writers like Agatha Christie, who made sure there were plenty of suspects to be studied, structured their books better. But Hull was an engaging writer, and I suspect he was also an engaging companion in real life.


Kelly Robinson said...

Neat introduction to a writer I'm completely unfamiliar with. Thanks.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Kelly. He is worth seeking out.