Friday, 29 November 2013

Forgotten Book - Lonely Magdalen

I've expressed before my admiration for Henry Wade's Lonely Magdalen, but the publication by Arcturus of a new mass market paperback means that this previously rare book is now within reach of any Golden Age fan. The Arcturus Crime Classics series is eclectic and fascinating, and I'd be saying that even if it didn't include a couple of my own Harry Devlin titles!

Inspector John Poole, Wade's most regular detective, here investigates the strangling of a scarred prostitute on Hampstead Heath. An early suspect is a man called Varden, who acts suspiciously and acts as bodyguard and bullyboy for a dodgy bookmaker. But Poole needs to discover the victim's identity. When he does, he receives a shock - she is a woman from an upper class background whose recent past is a mystery.

The second section of the book goes back in time, 25 years. We are introduced to an amiable young man called Jim Widdington, and the two attractive sisters in whom he takes an interest. He dumps one and marries the other, but spends most of his time enduring the hellish conditions of the Western Front. Wade, who fought in the war, provides a very good picture of the nightmarish life of the soldiers,and the effect it had on their personal lives.

The third section brings us back to the present (1939). Wade pursues one hopeful lead after another and eventually pinpoints the culprit. We are treated to a frank description of police bullying as the suspect is put under pressure in breach of the Judge's Rules. And in the very last paragraph, there is a wholly unexpected twist - or is it a twist? This is writing of the highest order. It's not cosy or"humdrum" at all. The plotting and characterisation are first rate. But Wade was unlucky - the book came out after the war began, and as a result did not receive the acclaim it so richly deserved. I'm so pleased it's back in print, because I think it's one of the masterpieces of the Golden Age.


Anonymous said...

This is certainly a first-rate book. Wade strikes me as being one of the few authors in the mystery field who actually writes adult novels which are also fair play mysteries. His continued neglect amazes me. It took me a long time to collect all the Poole novels. Maybe some enterprising publisher like Ramble House can be induced to do the job.

Martin Edwards said...

I so agree, Anon. He was much more of an innovator than has been recognised and it would be great to see all his work back in print.


Another point. Henry Wade, who served a magistrate, and as Sheriff in his county, doesn't get nearly the credit he deserves for being a pioneer of the police procedural, years before DRAGNET, J.J. Marric's Gideon, or Ed McBain's 87th Precinct. The police work conducted by Inspector Poole, and by cops in Wade's other stories and novels, is thoroughly convincing, and Poole, despite his unlikely "gentleman detective," background, is a thoroughly believable professional cop, created by a writer who was clearly familiar, perhaps not at first-hand, but certainly by personal observation, with the profession.