Clifford Witting was a very capable writer and in reviewing a couple of his books, I've mentioned that he is not only a competent (and sometimes excellent) plotter, he also leavens his stories with pleasing humour. A couple of shrewd judges have told me good things about Catt out of the Bag, which first appeared in 1939, and thanks to the initiative and enterprise of a small press called Galileo, those of us who haven't read it are now able to enjoy the book ourselves.
This is a Christmas mystery and its strength lies in the first hundred pages, with an enjoyable account of a tour around the small town of Paulsfield by a group of carol singers marshalled by the formidable Mrs de Frayne. Among them is the amiable bookseller John Rutherford, who narrates - as in the enjoyable Midsummer Murder.
One of the carol singers is a man called Vavasour, who disappears mysteriously during the evening, along with his collecting box. He hasn't gone home, but the following day, when Rutherford and a new friend who rejoices in the name Cloud-Gledhill make enquiries, his wife behaves suspiciously. Vavasour is a commercial traveller, and she maintains that he's had to go off on business. But her story isn't credible.
I feel that Witting was, on the evidence of the books of his that I've read, a writer after my own heart. He was trying to do something a bit different with his novels, rather than simply follow a well-worn pattern. This approach is appealing but - believe me! - it can have its drawbacks. In this case, I felt that the story faltered after the discovery of a corpse. The murder puzzle is quite neatly contrived, with a good 'least likely person' culprit, but the pleasure of the surprise is weakened because the murder motive is thin, with inadequate foreshadowing. So on the whole the story isn't quite as good as I'd hoped, but I'm glad to have read it and the quality of the early chapters provides clear evidence of Witting's ability to entertain.