Friday, 19 December 2014

Forgotten Book - Casual Slaughters

Today's Forgotten Book is a scarce title by a Golden Age author who displayed enough talent in his brief career to make one regret that he did not continue to write detective stories. The title (a good one, as so many Shakespearean titles are) is Casual Slaughters, and the author is James Quince. James Who? do you ask? Well, his reputation has certainly faded in the eighty-plus years that have passed since his last novel appeared. But he deserves to be rescued from literary oblivion.

James Quince was a pseudonym that concealed the identity of James Reginald Spittal. Spittal attended London University and Salisbury Theological College, and was ordained in 1898. He was at one time the vicar at Holy Trinity church in Lambeth, and among his various other posts, I'm sure one or two must have been rural parishes.. In 1930, he turned to detective fiction with some success. His first two books were published by Hodder, but they seem to have dropped him, and Casual Slaughters was published by a smaller firm. I find that puzzling, because it's a splendid read, and I feel lucky that my copy is signed by the author, because I suspect there aren't many such copies knocking around.

The tale makes excellent use of the author's knowledge of the type of people who become involved with a Parochial Church Council. The book opens and ends with a PCC meeting, and it's due to the PCC's decision-making that a corpse is discovered in a village graveyard. In due course, another death occurs. The book is narrated by a bachelor called Blundell, and I came up with a solution to Quince's puzzle that I thought rather ingenious. Sadly it was wrong...

The strength of this book lies in Quince's wry humour, which has worn pretty well, on the whole. The interplay of characters is very nicely done, and I'm sure he drew on his own experiences of English village life in evoking the mood and setting. The Rector, unsurprisingly, is especially well done. It's a quiet book, but fun to read, and I'm disappointed that he never wrote another. Perhaps pastoral duties became too pressing. But I've just acquired his first book, The Tin Town, and very much look forward to reading it. Even more so after reading this review by Curt Evans, which - in a coincidence so spooky that it really ought to trigger some sort of mystery plot - appeared on the same day as this review. You know how it is, you wait decades for a review of a book by James Quince, and then two turn up at once....

7 comments:

Graham Powell said...

When you come up with a wrong solution - fairly common in whodunnits, I guess - do you ever use the solution in a story of your own?

Martin Edwards said...

A very good question, Graham, and it's had me scratching my head. I can't think of an instance off hand. This may be because the set-up of someone else's story is usually quite different from what I'm doing. In this case, I thought there might be a Roger Ackroyd type of twist, but it turned out there wasn't...

John said...

How completely insane that Curt wrote about the other Quince book on the same day! I remember when Bonnie Lawson and I posted reviews on two different John Blackburn books the same day. Guess it happens every now and then with the FFB crowd, but rarely on a writer as obscure as Quince. No surprise I'm sure when I tell you I never heard of him until today. I'll be on the look out for him in my book haunting travels.

Martin Edwards said...

The springboard for my interest in him, John, was that within a few days of each other, signed copies of two of his three books became available. Another remarkable coincidence, and I am very pleased to have grabbed them.

John said...

I just found a copy of his second book, NOTICE TO QUIT (1932), and bought it! Soon there will be reviews of all three of his detective novels in the blogsphere. Nice tribute to this forgotten writer, I think.

Martin Edwards said...

Look forward to hearing what you make of it, John. It's a shame he produced so little.

Clarissa Draper said...

Wow, it's a pity he didn't continue. Sounds like an excellent mystery. Good thing you have a signed copy. I'm going to try to find it.