Friday, 17 June 2016

Forgotten Book - Enter Sir John

Enter Sir John was the first joint novel authored by two friends, the playwright Clemence Dane, and Helen Simpson. A brief foreword credits the publisher C.S. Evans for coming up with the idea of the collaboration and the story, which introduces the egocentric but appealing actor-manager Sir John Samaurez (real name Johnnie Simmonds). He appeared in two later novels by the pair before their literary partnership came to an end.

The story is set in the theatrical world that both authors, and in particular Dane, knew very well. Martella Baring is accused of murdering her unpleasant colleague Magda Druce, and the evidence against her seems to be damning. She is tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death, having done nothing to help herself when appearing in the witness box.

Sir John, who had previously met Martella and taken a shine to her, attends the trial and becomes convinced of her innocence. She continues to be reluctant to co-operate, in the gallant yet infuriating way of so many Golden Age suspects. But Sir John is undaunted, and eventually uncovers the truth. it has to be said that, as a detective story, this one is nothing special; the puzzle is perfunctory. The writing and characterisation (by the standards of the time) are what lift it out of the ordinary. The question of racism is also addressed,in a way that - again by the standards of 1929 - is quite thought-provoking.

The story was vivid enough to appeal to Hitchcock, who filmed it as Murder!, a movie I reviewed here more than four years ago. There are also elements which, as Liz Gilbey noted in a an excellent article for CADS a while back, anticipate a much better known book by a friend and Detection Club colleague of the authors - Dorothy L. Sayers, whose Strong Poison offers a cunning howdunit puzzle. Enter Sir John isn't as good as the Sayers novel, but it's interesting, nonetheless.


Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Fascinating - thanks Martin, always been curious of the original source behind the movie. Just how hard is this book to come by?

Ted said...

So, will you be reading the 1932 sequel, 'Re-enter Sir John' anytime soon?

Martin Edwards said...

I picked it up cheaply, Sergio, but I may have been lucky. There don't seem to be many copies around.

Martin Edwards said...

Ted, I don't have that one, but I do have Printer's Devil in which Sir John plays a part, and I hope to get round to it fairly soon.