Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Twenty-five Sanitary Inspectors

In any list of bizarre whodunit titles, Twenty-Five Sanitary Inspectors would surely rank high. The book was written by Roger East in 1935 and reprinted half a century later in a series called ‘The Disappearing Detectives’, each of which included a useful introduction from H.R.F. Keating. As he says, even such an intriguing title failed to save the book, its detective Superintendent Simmons, and its author from obscurity.

This is so despite a number of factors which should have played in East’s favour. First, his career got off to a successful start with Murder Rehearsal, which earned a rave review in the Manchester Evening News: ‘…he seems likely to become of the small band of really first-class detective story writers.’ And when I tracked the book down, I found that it is indeed an enjoyable mystery, with an excellent, quirky premise, although the resolution of the puzzle is not quite up to the same high standard.

Second, East did not fade quickly from the scene; after taking a break from Simmons with the advent of war, he continued to write occasional crime novels until the 1960s. Third, he had genuine talent and wrote scripts for film and television, including the Maigret series.

But to write sporadically is seldom enough to maintain a reputation unless one truly is in the top flight. As Keating says, ‘I have been unable to find the name Roger East in any of the who’s-whos and encyclopaedias, and his books proved almost untraceable…’ Sobering. But on the evidence of the few books by East that I've read, I agree with Keating that his neglect is undeserved.


Anonymous said...

Sounds a bit like a Colin Cotterill title (33 teeth) or maybe Alexander McCall Smith (The Kalahari typing school for men). But no, I think the sanitary inspectors caps the lot!

Karen (Euro Crime) said...

I bought a copy of this recently at Hay (the reprint edition!). I kept picking up all the older books - your influence is rubbing off on me :-).