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.