Friday, 6 March 2015

Forgotten Book - The Rasp

The Rasp, my Forgotten Book for today, was the first crime novel published by Philip MacDonald solo and under his own name (he'd previously co-written two books with his father). It appeared in 1924, when he was still in his early twenties, and it introduced Colonel Anthony Gethryn, who was to become one of the more popular "great detectives" of the Golden Age.

The first thing to say about this book is that it's a very assured performance, especially considering the youth and inexperience of its author. Yes, there are flaws (the explanation of the puzzle at the end is excessively long, for instance, and the killer's insanity is not adequately foreshadowed) but it really is an excellent example of the breezy Golden Age whodunit. MacDonald's writing is invariably energetic - in fact, in some books he produced later, it seems rushed - and he carries his readers along, so that we don't worry too much about the improbabilities of the plot.

The book is sometimes described as a "locked room mystery", because John Hoode, a cabinet minister, is found dead in his locked study; however, there is an open window, so this is by no means an "impossible crime". It's a tricky one to solve, nonetheless, and although the police arrest someone, Gethryn becomes convinced that the man is innocent, and has been framed.

I've admired MacDonald ever since reading a reprint of Gethryn's second case, The White Crow, in my teens, and I really enjoyed this whodunit. I have a facsimile dust jacket of the first edition, and I also love the publishers' blurb: " all the subsidiary characters, especially the ladies, usually the weak spot in detective fiction are drawn with humour and insight". They don't write blurbs like that any more! Nor do they write books quite like The Rasp any more. But if you like Golden Age fiction, with all its strengths and limitations, there is every chance you'll like this one.


Graham Powell said...

See, this is my least favorite of Macdonald's books that I have read. I found it kind of dull. I've enjoyed all his other stuff, so I'm not sure why this one didn't engage me.

RTD said...

Yikes, another MacDonald to add to my list of "must read" mystery/crime/detective fiction writers! What is it with the MacDonald clans?

As this MacDonald was also responsible for The List of Adrian Messenger -- a strange and wonderful tale -- I think _The Rasp_ (if I can find it) needs to be added to my ABCs of Crime Fiction Challenge at Beyond Eastrod. I thank you, sir, for the pointing me in the right direction.

BTW, you will not be surprised, of course, when something by you turns up on the ABC schedule.

Steve Lewis said...

I remember enjoying this one when I read it maybe 10 or even 20 years ago, but all that really comes back to me is the long time it took MacDonald to explain everything away, just as you say.

I'd certainly recommend the book to anyone fond of puzzle mysteries, though. Nobody writes them like this any more, more's the pity.