Patti Abbott's series of Friday's Forgotten Books is taking an official break today, but I thought I'd cover an obscure title anyway, and I've chosen Milward Kennedy's Sic Transit Gloria. Kennedy was a significant figure in the Golden Age, a crime fiction reviewer as well as a novelist, and a prominent member of the Detection Club. However, his books are nowadays forgotten by all except a few.
I was tempted to acquire Sic Transit Gloria by its intriguing dedication to the publisher Victor Gollancz, in which Kennedy says: ‘For my part I believe…that if the detective-novel becomes too stereotyped, if its “rules” are applied too rigidly, the genre may be destroyed. Here then is an experiment – a few days in the life of a man whose friend dies…’
Anthony Berkeley’s preface to The Second Shot is often quoted for its emphasis on the importance of the psychology of crime and I hoped this book might be equally notable. But I have to say that Kennedy was not quite in Anthony Berkeley's league, lacking both the master’s gift for elaborate plotting and also his sardonic wit, although the finale to the story has a touch of irony of which Berkeley would have approved.
After a promising start, the story drags before warming up in its latter stages. James Southern discovers the body of glamorous Gloria Day in his London flat: did she kill herself, or was she murdered? He determines to find out the explanation for her fate and ends up playing ‘the part of justice…A jury could only have secured injustice. What did the law matter – if the law could not have secured justice? People talked of judicial murder: was not judicial failure to secure the just punishment of a murderer just as bad?’ Of course, the answer to the question is not so simple.
The novel was published in 1936, and perhaps its most interesting feature is the light it casts on the political scene in the years leading up to the Second World War – Southern reflects, for instance, on the morality of murder for political purposes. Kennedy’s experiment is smoothly written and worth reading. It's not a masterpiece, but certainly of interest to anyone intrigued by the 30s and the history of detective fiction.