Friday, 26 September 2014

Forgotten Book - For Murder Will Speak

J. J. Connington was a leading light of British Golden Age detective fiction, although in the post-war era, his reputation declined and until recently, most of his books were hard to find.. He was an interesting writer, and although some aspects of his work are very dated, he wrote a number of unusual novels with ingenious plots, and was a strong believer in 'playing fair' with his readers. He is the author of today's Forgotten Book, For Murder Will Speak, which was originally published in 1938.

This was the novel he wrote immediately after the very disappointing Truth Comes Limping, and my expectations were none too high. There's a widespread view that his best work was done earlier in his career,before ill-health began to dog him. But as with The Four Defences, I felt that this book had much to commend it. And it features poison pen letters, a subject dealt with very enjoyably in recent posts on the admirable Clothes in Books blog.

The viewpoint to begin with is that of a businessman called Hyson, a nasty piece of work who messes about with female subordinates as well as with the firm's finances. It soon becomes clear that he is one of those Golden Age characters who is destined for an unpleasant end, but the structure of the book is unusual, and although a couple of deaths occur, it's not clear whether either or both of them are murders. Connington's usual detective, Sir Clinton Driffield, eventually comes into the story and sets about untangling a complicated web.

As so often with Connington, the technical complications and focus on fair play mean that it's not terribly difficult to figure out who is sending the poisoned pen letters, or who is responsible (directly or indirectly) for Hyson's death. But I found the story engaging and readable, even though I was rather taken aback by one of the plot strands (which to quote a review on the GAdetection site involves "a woman whose nymphomania has been corrected through a glandular adjustment".). All a bit odd, and reflecting Connington's attitudes, which were not exactly modern or progressive. As a result, the book ranks as something of a curiosity - but to my mind, an under-rated one.


The Passing Tramp said...

Similar to my view in Masters of the Humdrum Mystery, I think. I praised The Four Defences there as well. When you write:

"There's a widespread view that his best work was done earlier in his career,before ill-health began to dog him."

I think that would be me? I don't know that there are widespread views of Connington (how man people have read all his books, though they are all reprinted now?). I do highlight The Four Defences as one of the best later ones though and I think For Murder Will Speak has a lot of interesting elements in it.

As far as the solution being "guessable," just remember not all mystery writers are necessarily as sophisticated as you! ;)

The Passing Tramp said...

Incidentally, Martin, I think Connignton thought he was being "modern" with the glandular treatment of sexual "disorders." Remember this as the age of the lobotomy as well! It's distasteful to us today, of course.

Martin Edwards said...

As often, Curt, my view on the book is similar to yours. In fact, you're far from alone in liking JJC. 'Widespread' means in my lexicon, among the mainly British GA fans I chat to (and borrow rare first editions from, like this one, loaned by a kind friend.) So I was pleasantly surprised by this late JJC novel. I agree that JJC was trying to be up to date, but although tempting, trying to be up to date is fraught with dangers for writers whose books last.