Friday 6 November 2009

Forgotten Book - Who Goes Hang?

My latest entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books for Friday is Who Goes Hang?, the debut novel of Stanley Hyland. Published in 1958, it was later described by Erik Routley, in his idiosyncratic survey of the ‘puritan pleasures’ of detective fiction as perhaps the last in the line of the ‘real sexless cerebral’ detective stories.

This was a novel which gained much from its author’s knowledge of the setting. Hyland was a Yorkshireman who went to work in the Houses of Parliament as a research librarian, and his book opens with the discovery by Fred Armytage, a workman carrying out repairs to the Clock Tower, of a mummified corpse in the wall cavity beneath Big Ben's bell chamber. The body is that of a man about 40, dressed in the clothes of the mid-nineteenth century. The crushing of the skull indicates that murder has been done.

Amongst those attending the inquest - conducted by the Coroner of the Royal Household and quite splendidly described - is a young M.P. called Hubert Bligh. He becomes intrigued by the case and gathers together a non-partisan committee of M.P.s to investigate further, with each member following a different line of research.

This is only the start of a neatly constructed story. The way in which Hyland feeds into his narrative substantial chunks of history without distracting interest from the central puzzle is especially interesting - the more so when one reads his note at the end of the book, which reveals just how much fact there is within the fiction. It even appears that repairs were indeed effected to the Clock Tower in l956, although not with the dramatic results that occurred in the novel.

Stanley Hyland only wrote two more crime novels, neither comparable to this one. He became heavily involved in politics and television. He was close to Harold Wilson and produced several of his election broadcasts. He was also involved in early TV shows focusing on do-it-yourself. A man of many talents, he died in 1997, at the age of 82.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Too bad he didn't continue with his writing career. But it sounds like he was a man of many talents and interests. Thanks for the tip on the book...I'll try to track it down.

Mystery Writing is Murder

pattinase (abbott) said...

Interesting to say "sexless." I wouldn't think sex is a necessary component in crime writing.

Anonymous said...

Martin - That's one of the things I like most about Friday's Forgotten Books - I always learn about authors and books I've not read. Hyland's work is among them. I enjoy history very much, and when there's a strong mystery plot and good characters, too, that's an irresistible mix for me : ). I'll have to see if I can find this one.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Patti, I agree, but Routley's thesis was about puritanism in classic detective fiction, so from his point of view, it sort of makes sense. Routley's book is interesting, even if eccentric - might be a good Forgotten Book one day!

Anonymous said...

The 1967 paperback of this has been sitting on my shelves since, uh, 1967. It's about time I got round to reading it - thanks for the reminder!

Martin Edwards said...

Enjoy, Anonymous! It's inevitably dated, but interesting and a bit different.

vegetableduck said...

Martin, I recall reading about this title in Routley, but have never read it myself. Sounds interesting from your description.