Friday, 9 November 2012

Forgotten Book - My Brother's Killer

D.M.Devine was in many ways a writer in the classic Golden Age tradition, although his first book did not appear until 1961. This was My Brother's Killer, which has recently been republished as an Arcturus Crime Classic. Apparently, Devine entered it for a "don's detective novel" competition run by Collins Crime Club, but having been voted the winner - by judges including Agatha Christie - he was disqualified because technically he was not a don, but a university administrator - at a senior level, at St Andrews. An unlucky start, but the book deservedly found its way into print. What's more, Christie remained a fan, and when I visited her former home Greenway in May I remember seeing at least one book by Devine on the shelves there.

The story is set around a solicitors' office. Two brothers are partners. Simon Barnett narrates the story, and on one foggy night he responds to an urgent call from his brother Oliver only to find that Oliver has been murdered in his office. Oliver was a rascally character, and there are plentiful suspects, including a third partner called Fergusson.

Simon, a solid and decent sort of chap, is shocked to learn that Olive appears to have been a blackmailer. In addition, he betrayed his disfigured wife with a series of women in a squalid house that he rented under a pseudonym. A woman whom Simon once loved is arrested, but Simon is convinced of her innocence, and turns amateur detective, assisted by two colleagues.

The plot is elaborate and very carefully worked out. It depends in part on an alibi, and also on the extreme ingenuity and callousness of the culprit. Bearing in mind this was a first novel, I thought it was very well done, and I could see why Christie admired it. Devine went on to write a dozen more books, and although he never touched the heights, he was one of the mainstays of the Collins Crime Club for almost two decades. This is an extremely worthwhile reprint.


J F Norris said...

One of his books was turned into a lurid Italian giallo film starring Franco Nero -- The Fifth Cord. At least three other books have university settings. I guess he followed the old tenet "Write what you know."

I've been meaning to pick up a copy of this. A Japanese publisher that annually gives out an award for traditional (or orthodox as they term them) detective novels loves Devine's books. He got the award four times but this is *not* one of the winners. It may not have been ranslated into Japanese yet. Thomas Hanshew just got a mention on their honor roll this year! His books have been out of print in English for over 80 years.

Martin Edwards said...

John, that's fascinating. I've never heard of The Fifth Cord, and I'm just trying to work out if my DVD player can handle a US DVD.
Yes, I think he stuck to the areas he knew best. Almost all the characters here are in the professional classes.