The Test Match Murder, first published in 1936 (and not, as far as I know, ever reprinted) is my Forgotten Book for today. It was written by Denzil Batchelor, a British journalist and broadcaster who became interested in sports writing while working in Sydney. And this book is set, not as you might expect at Lord's Cricket Ground or The Oval, but in Sydney. England's star batsman, Franklyn, dies sensationally while walking out to the crease with his team already struggling at eight for three.
I first became aware of Batchelor many years ago, after reading a witty cricket essay of his, but I didn't know he'd written a cricket-based crime novel. This is certainly an obscure one, and I had hopes that it might prove to be an undiscovered masterpiece. I'm afraid it is not, although it's amusing in patches - there's a nice spoof of the Great Detective character - and ends quite well.
Franklyn has been poisoned by, of all things, curare. Someone at Sydney Cricket Ground has tampered with his batting glove. But who? Some of the detective work is done by Owen Brownlow and his sleuthing brother Latimer, but the official police investigator eventually takes centre stage. The story sags badly in the middle, with the introduction of dope gangs and even (despite the strictures of Ronald Knox) a mysterious Chinaman, These features never, in my experience, improve a Golden Age detective novel..
Overall, though, the book was worth persevering with. There's not much about cricket in it, which I found regrettable, but which those who don't love cricket may be glad to hear. Batchelor was a talented writer, and on his death at the age of 63 in 1969, his friends noted his great versatility. It was common in the mid-Thirties for people to dabble in detective fiction, and in some ways he reminds me of the better known Alan Melville, who also wrote crime stories early in his career. This book is very hard to find but despite its limitations, I'm glad I tracked down a copy.