Friday, 8 April 2016

Forgotten Book - Measure for Murder

My Forgotten Book for today is Clifford Witting's Measure for Murder. Witting's name isn't well-known these days, but he retains a number of admirers, and those picky (and knowledgeable) critics Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor rated this particular novel a classic, including it in a series of fifty crime classics from the first half of the twentieth century.

Witting's series detective, Inspector Charlton, makes an appearance in this book, but not until half way through. The structure is unusual. We are told about the discovery of a murder at the start of the book, but then we go back in time and follow a story told by Vaughan Tudor, which sets the scene for the crime.

Tudor is quite a likeable character, and he describes how, after an unsatisfactory spell as a bank clerk, he became an estate agent in a small town, and involved himself in the activities of a newly formed amateur dramatic society. The society gets off to a good start, but tensions mount as Tudor, and one or two of his colleagues, become enamoured of a very attractive actress. Preparations for the staging of Measure for Measure are disrupted by several untoward incidents - and then murder is committed.

The book is set just before, and just after, the start of the Second World War,and I was interested by Tudor's account of small town life at that troubled period of our history. The murder mystery, however, I found less satisfactory. There are too many characters, and the story felt very cluttered. I also found the motive and identity of the culprit less than totally convincing. But Witting's prose is light and agreeable, and he eventually earned membership of the Detection Club.

6 comments:

John said...

Witting is another writer you ought to goad the British Library into resurrecting. One of the rare mystery writers truly undeserving of being left in limbo and out of print. Apart from his Edgar Wallace knock-off TCOT BUSY BEES which is an atypically violent thriller and very grim, I've thoroughly enjoyed all his detective novels. This is one I have yet to get to, but I will! He wrote so few books and I've found copies of all but two of them so I'm savoring them over the years.

Todd Mason said...

Was it the structure that so impressed Barzun and Taylor?

Ted said...

Martin, I read this book two years ago and loved it. I especially enjoyed the description of the inner workings at the cheque clearing house.

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting comments, thank you. Todd, I think they liked the book generally, not merely the unusual structure. I plan to read more Witting and John, I am looking at a short story for possible inclusion in a BL anthology at this point.

Steve Owen said...

I have loved Clifford Witting's novels since my dad introduced them to me long ago when I was about 16. I don't possess all of them and they are not easy to find, though at one time the public libraries all had them. I'd love to see them come back. Inspector Charlton is a great character. The plots are generally excellent as well and he certainly knows how to write. The incidental descriptions of everyday life in the late thirties is good stuff as well.

Ronald Smyth said...

The only Witting book that I ever read was There Was a Crooked Man. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have wanted to read more ever since but simply have never been able to find any. I agree with John that it would be wonderful to have him included in the British Library's resurrection of crime classics.