Friday, 5 January 2018

Forgotten Book - The Poison Trail

Anthony Armstrong is remembered today, if at all, for his play Ten Minute Alibi, the novelisation of which I reviewed earlier this year. Armstrong's real name was George Anthony Armstrong Willis, and he was born in 1897 in British Columbia, the son of a British man who was in the Royal Navy. The family returned to England in 1900, and Armstrong became a successful writer. Among other things, he contributed to the screenplay of Hitchcock's Young and Innocent, a film which renders the source material, Josephine Tey's debut novel, pretty much unrecognisable.

Armstrong's career as a novelist was not outstanding, but among other books he wrote a series of five featuring Jimmy Rezaire. Rezaire is one of those characters, like Raffles, who begins life as a crook and ends up on the right side of the law. I recently read The Poison Trail, his final case, in which he is operating as a private investigator on good terms with the police.

The Poison Trail isn't a whodunit, but a howdunit. It's fairly clear from the outset that Gideon Davenport killed his brother Abel to inherit a fortune. But what baffles everyone is how he managed it. Richard Marty, who had hoped to inherit instead of Gideon, is frustrated by the inability of the police to nail the killer, and so he consults Rezaire.

Rezaire is assisted by his wife Viv and his chum Hyslop, but at first they are confounded by the case. Has Gideon outsmarted them? Armstrong was a readable writer, and although the plot is not over-elaborate, it's quite well-handled. Personally, I prefer more twists than were on offer in The Poison Trail, and the story is told in a slightly boyish way, but it's a competent piece of work, even if a minor one..

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