Friday 17 October 2008

Forgotten Book - The Dying Alderman

My latest Friday’s Forgotten Book for Patti Abbott’s series is The Dying Alderman, by Henry Wade

The more I read of Henry Wade, the more my admiration for his contribution to the crime genre grows. This was his fourth book, published in 1930, and it blends routine police work with classic mystery elements in beguiling fashion. By the time the novel was published, Wade was being compared to then very highly regarded Freeman Wills Crofts (and Inspector French’s enthusiasm for food receives a passing mention). But Wade had a closer knowledge of real-life police work than Crofts and the interplay between the local detective, the military man newly appointed as chief constable, and the Scotland Yard man (Inspector Lott; Wade’s principal detective, Inspector Poole, had made one appearance by this time, but does not play a part in this story) is enjoyable and convincing.

As in other Wade books, there are echoes of the Great War in the presence of Chief Constable Race, and his old friend Hallis, who is one of those suspected of killing Alderman Trant. There is, perhaps, too much harping on about the precise time of death of the victim (we are provided not only with a table of timings – hinting at alibis and so on - but also with a variant table, which offers ‘mean’ calculations of precise times, bearing in mind differences in witness evidence), and this slows the narrative down to a degree unacceptable to a modern reader.

By way of compensation, the novel features corruption in local government – Trant appears to be a ‘whistle-blower’ – and thus possesses a timeless quality. It also boasts a ‘dying message’ clue, the meaning of which is revealed in the very last line – although most readers, surely, will have solved it much earlier. Unusually, the closing scenes yield two suicides, as well as a lengthy confession – that final ‘twist’ was Wade’s attempt to overcome any suspicion of anti-climax. The motive for the murder seemed to me to be disappointingly thin, but overall the book stands up tolerably well to twenty-first century scrutiny.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

It's just great when one of the 80 year olds can still give off some heat, isn't it?