Friday, 25 May 2012

Forgotten Book - The Grindle Nightmare

My Forgotten Book today is The Grindle Nightmare, by Quentin Patrick, and I have to thank John Norris of Pretty Sinister Books for not only calling it to my attention, but also supplying me with a copy. Very kind of him, and, I must say, typical of the kindness which, I have found, abounds among crime bloggers and fans.

The book was first published in 1935, and was one of two books which Richard Wilson Webb, an Englishman born (like Robert Barnard) in the Essex town of Burnham, and an American journalist, Mary Louise Aswell, wrote under the pseudonym (used almost interchangeably with the name Q.Patrick – the name Patrick Quentin was used extensively in later years). Webb had earlier written with another woman, Martha Mott Kelley, but his major collaborator was Hugh Wheeler, another Englishman who eventually became famous for writing the book of musicals such as A Little Night Music.

The setting is a rather remote New England valley called Grindle, and a helpful map is supplied in true Golden Age tradition. But Grindle isn’t St Mary Mead, but a place where dark and disturbing things are happening. Animals are being mistreated, and then a young girl disappears. The narrator is a young scientist, Dr Doug Swanson, who shares his home with a fellow doctor; their work involves vivisection. Suffice to say that nobody in their right mind would call this book “cosy”. It is very dark by any standards, but especially for the time when it was written. Not one for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.

The plot is complicated, and a genuine whodunit puzzle is supplied. Mention is made of a very famous real life American murder case, which may have been a source of some inspiration for the device at the heart of the narrative. But this is a book unlike any others of its period that I have read – and it really is memorable. Short, snappy, chilling and clever, it deserves to be much better known.


Unknown said...

I always enjoy Quentin Patrick or Q. Patrick or Patrick Quentin or Jonathan Stagge or whatever name the authors were using at the time. Great pick.

J F Norris said...

Hmmm, I don't remember the map in that copy. Wish I had seen it and scanned it before I sent it off to you.

One of the noir reprint houses really should see about reissuing this book. I think it would have great appeal to modern tastes of crime fiction readers who crave the dark and bleak storyline that is the trademark of modern noir. If cleverly marketed it might even draw in the horror reading crowd.

Doug Greene said...

I too admire the books by Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin/Jonathan Stagge. On several occasions I have tried to get permission to publish their short detective stories in a Crippen & Landru volume, but have never succeeded.

Question -- did you read the paperback edition by Ballantine? That is the only one, to my knowledge, that reverses the author's pseudonym to make it "Quentin Patrick."

Doug Greene said...

The book was first published as by "Q. Patrick," but the Ballantine paperback was by "Quentin Patrick." Is that the edition you read? Over and over I have tried in vain to get permission for Crippen & Landru to publish a collection of their short stories. Very frustrating

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks as ever for your comments.
Doug, yes, it was the paperback edition I read.
John, I will try to get it scanned for you!

Ken B said...

Just read this. Mixed feelings. I thought the conclusion/wrap up let down the first two thirds of the book. It felt both arbitrary and overly complicated. The setting and personnel of the piece are well done, and quite vivid. An interesting, and rather odd, book for sure. If it were written today I am sure we'd have twice the length, and far more dwelling on the gore.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Ken. Very much agree with you about a contemporary equivalent!