Friday, 27 February 2015

Forgotten Book - Death by Request

My Forgotten Book for today dates from 1933. Death by Request is unusual in at least two respects. First, its authors were a husband and wife team, Romilly and Katherine John, a pair of Cambridge graduates who were both in their twenties. Second, they never published another novel - either jointly or separately. Surely they weren't disappointed with this first effort? It still reads pretty well today.

My copy dates back to the Eighties. Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan provided intros for several good books reissued by Hogarth Crime at that time, and they do a good job of setting the scene, although one comment that they make, whilst not really a spoiler, does give the alert crime fan a better chance of guessing the outcome.

The story is in some respects a light-hearted homage to Agatha Christie, with a clergyman narrator just as in Murder at the Vicarage. (Gladys Mitchell also wrote a book told in the first person by a member of the clergy at around the same time.) I enjoyed the prissy voice of the Rev. Joseph Colchester, as well as the witty portrayal of an idiotic colonel, who is constantly putting his foot in his mouth.

The authors offer us a traditional country house mystery, with Lord Malvern, who is a bit of a cad, found gassed in his bedroom. The door is locked, but this isn't really a locked room mystery. The cause of death is soon obvious, as is the fact that it was no accident. A socialist butler is one of the other incidental pleasures, and although I felt the action dragged a bit in the middle section, overall I enjoyed the story, and very much regret that Mr and Mrs John didn't write more mysteries.

Katherine became a translator of Scandinavian literature, while Romilly's best-known book was a memoir of his early years in a strange household presided over by his father, Augustus John. Oddly enough, yesterday I was in London, and went to visit the Foundling Museum, a fascinating place that I can strongly recommend. As part of an exhibition of the life and work of Jacob Epstein, who was fascinated by children, there was a bronze of....the young Romilly John. .

7 comments:

Clothes In Books said...

I read the Hogarth reprint of this in the 80s, and almost certainly have it somewhere in the house, I must haul it out and have a look. That must have been strange, coming across the statue....

Martin Edwards said...

It certainly was a surreal moment in the museum, Moira. I thought I was imagining it at first.

Steve Lewis said...

This is really a forgotten book. Back when I posted a review of it in 2007, I looked online and didn't really find it mentioned anywhere.

Here's a link to my review:

http://mysteryfile.com/blog/?p=59

To summarize though, while I found some flaws in the telling, I think it's a book that any reader of The Golden Age of Detection will enjoy.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much, Steve. Agreed,

RTD said...

You know, when I read your wonderful reviews of vintage novels, I feel a bit like the hungry dog being dragged on a leash past the butcher shop: so tantalizing but very little hope.

You see, I am having a devil of a time finding many of the titles you highlight. And my hunger continues

All the best from the ravenous dog at Beyond Eastrod -- the blog where I have just launched myself into an ABC's of Crime Fiction reading challenge. As I work my way through the alphabet -- please see the blog and the challenge -- I will be pondering who on earth I could include for the "E" fortnight. Any ideas?

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, RTD, and good luck with the blog. How about Endless Night? Or something by Francis Everton (very hard to find)? Or perhaps by E.R. Punshon (some green Penguins quite easy to find)? Or Elizabeth Daly, or....well, plenty of possibilities...

RTD said...

And then there is Edwards. Im leaning that way.