Friday, 19 September 2014

Forgotten Book - Mystery in Kensington Gore

My Forgotten Book for today is one of a stack of novels written in the early Thirties by Philip MacDonald. He was at that time so productive that he used a pseudonym for some of his non-series work, and Mystery in Kensington Gore was written under the alias of Martin Porlock. It's a stand-alone thriller, rather than a classic whodunit, and there are signs that it was written quickly and carelessly. Yet it also displays some of MacDonald's characteristic strengths.

First and foremost, he was a really good story-teller. This book opens with a man called Peter Craven, down on his luck, and breaking in to a London house for a bite to eat. Things take an unexpected turn after he falls asleep and, on waking, encounters a young woman called Frances. It turns out that they are sharing the house with a recently murdered man, Frances' stepfather. Frances is terrified that she will be accused of his murder, and persuades Craven to take the body away and dump it somewhere. This he does - but before long, the body reappears in the house...

I thought this was a terrific spin on the classic "vanishing body" plot. Horrified, Peter and Frances make a run for it, but soon the police are in hot pursuit. After a series of escapades, the pair start (rather belatedly, if you ask me) to try to puzzle out who has really committed the murder, and why. There is one likely suspect, but is the truth more complex? The answer is yes, but there aren't as many twists as I'd hoped for.

This book was written a few years before MacDonald left the UK for Hollywood, but it is a good example of the filmic style of his writing. The storyline is strongly reminiscent of Hitchcock's much-loved and often-used plot device - the ordinary man (and woman) trying to flee from both the forces of evil and the authorities. I thought it was well done, although it's only fair to mention that one Golden Age expert, with whose judgments I often agree,considered the book to be "utter tripe". Well, we are all entitled to our own opinions. I enjoyed this story, even though the climax was rather flimsy, with a detailed written confession that smacks of lazy and hurried writing. Certainly, the reader needs to suspend disbelief somewhat. But that's true of many lively thrillers, is it not?

3 comments:

Bev Hankins said...

Martin, I also love Philip MacDonald, although I haven't read any of his work under the Martin Porlock name. I'll have to keep an eye out for those now--especially since this one seems to be a light thriller.

seana graham said...

Tripe or not, it sounds pretty fun. For some reason the much more recent Morvern Callar by Alan Warner sprang to mind.

Martin Edwards said...

Bev, Seana, thanks. All the Porlock books are decent reads, I think.