Before I get stuck into today's Golden Oldie, may I say how gratified I am by the reaction to news of the forthcoming publication of The Golden Age of Murder? I'm sure those who have read my articles and blog posts about the Golden Age will realise that writing the book has been a labour of love. Even late last night, I was tinkering with some of the notes and the bibliography (to be honest, 'tinkering' is a euphemism for 'expanding'...). One of the beauties of today's world of global communication is that people have made me aware that the book is already being marketed via Amazon here and in the US, and there have even been some pre-orders. Wow, talk about quick off the mark!
One of the reasons why I was keen for the news to come out now, even though the official publication date for both the UK edition and the US edition is next May is that this week-end, I'm giving a talk about the Golden Age and the Shadows of War at the St Hilda's Crime and Mystery Conference, and I really didn't feel I could resist keeping the news to myself any longer. There's a strong contingent of Golden Age fans at St Hilda's, and I've been looking forward to this event for months.
Now, back to today's Forgotten Book. Corpse in Cold Storage, written by Milward Kennedy, and published in 1934, is my choice. It's certainly forgotten - I can't recall reading any discussion of it anywhere. It's probably fair to say that Kennedy's fan club is a pretty small and exclusive group. Possibly I'm the only current member, though I hope not. His books often frustrate me, because they frequenly fail to live up to their potential, but they usually offer something "different" and rather inventive that is uncommon and appealing.
Corpse in Cold Storage is a case in point. The title comes from a phrase that Kennedy had used in an earlier novel, and which (I guess) gave him a starting point for this story. The corpse belongs to an unpleasant man called Charleson, and it is found in...an ice cream van. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this points to a "time of death" mystery that is quite cleverly concocted. The setting, in a small and run-down south coast resort delightfully called Heartsease, is also very nicely done. The victim, and almost all of the suspects are not, however, very interesting. What's unusual about this book is the detective duo who take an interest in the case.
Kennedy had previously tried and abandoned a series police detective (by the name of Cornford) after only two books. This story sees the return of Sir George Bull and his wife Mary after they first appeared in Bull's Eye, a book which left me underwhelmed. Corpse in Cold Storage is better, and shows the Bulls in good form. Sir George is a hard-drinking conman, and he wants to find out who killed Charleson simply in order to blackmail the killer. His seductive wife aids and abets him, whilst trying to persuade him to moderate his intake of alcohol, and she proves a much better detective. Together they make an entertainingly different pair of sleuths. There have been villainous detectives before and since the Bulls, but nobody quite like them.
I enjoyed the story a good deal, though some of the detail about alibis, whilst in the Golden Age tradition, left me as cold as Charleson's corpse. It's a shame that Kennedy abandoned the Bulls after this book. He strikes me as a restless writer, constantly trying something different, and never quite writing a masterpiece. One final point: my American edition describes him as "President of the Detection Society of England". He was never the Detection Club's President, though, and I bet he got into trouble over that with the Club's founder, Anthony Berkeley, who was perhaps the prickliest of all Golden Age writers. There will be more about both Kennedy and Berkeley in The Golden Age of Murder.