One of the sessions at Bodies from the Library was a conversation between Richard Reynolds, formerly a great bookseller at Heffers in Cambridge, and Robert Hyde of Galileo Publishing, an indie press based in the same city. They were discussing the life and career of Clifford Witting, a writer whose work I've discussed several times on this blog. And very interesting it was too.
The latest Galileo title is Witting's Let X be the Murderer, which was first published in 1947. Once again it features Inspector Charlton, an amiable but shrewd detective. In this story, DS Martin takes a phone message from elderly Sir Victor Warringham, who makes the extraordinary claim that a ghost has just attempted to strangle him.
So begins an intriguing mystery. Charlton accompanies Martin to Sir Victor's home, Elmsdale, but they find that a couple called Harler are reluctant to allow them to see the old man and they claim he is mentally infirm. On the other hand, the housekeeper Mrs Winters - who has clearly taken a dislike to the Harlers - clearly thinks that there's nothing wrong with the old man's mind. When a solicitor turns up on the scene, it's apparent that Sir Victor is contemplating making a new will. In a vintage detective novel, we all know what that means, don't we?
Except that the death which follows is not the one you might expect. And Witting continues to spring surprises as the story proceeds. The book is written in his characteristically light, agreeable style, and although the cast of characters is limited, he manages to juggle suspicion around very nicely. Overall, I'd say this is one of the best Wittings I've read. The cover artwork, it must be said, owes a great deal to the British Library house style, and I'm not quite sure why Galileo don't have the confidence to come up with a distinctive style of their own. They are doing good work by reviving Witting's novels, and reminding us that there are plenty of entertaining writers out there whose work has been unavailable for far too long.