Roy Vickers was a prolific author who is best known for his entertaining short stories about the Department of Dead Ends, but his novels have long been out of print. My first Forgotten Book for 2013 is one of his last books, Murder of a Snob, which was published in 1949, and has now reappeared under Pan Macmillan's Bello imprint. The Bello list features numerous Vickers titles, many of them hitherto impossible to find.
"Samuel Cornboise was murdered because he was a snob" is a first sentence almost worthy of a Francis Iles or a Ruth Rendell. I wouldn't pretend, though, that Vickers is in the same league as a writer. Yet this book shows what he was capable of. The plot is elaborate, making use of Vickers' legal knowledge (he trained as a barrister before turning to journalism) and, although there is only one murder, suspense and interest is maintained quite well from start to finish. The victim's snobbery is a personality flaw which clearly interested Vickers, because he wrote an entirely separate Dead Ends story with a similar title. My guess, for what it's worth, is that Vickers had suffered a good deal from snobbery, and found writing about the subject cathartic.
The victim, who has the title of Lord Watlington, is a self-made man who is bludgeoned to death in his own home. Ralph, his nephew and heir, confesses to the crime - but is he guilty? There are several possible suspects, including the lovely Claudia, whose disreputable past had so annoyed his Lordship when Ralph decided to marry her, an artist and his lover, the deceased's wife (from whom he was long separated) and Querk, a crafty chap who looked after Watlington's business affairs.
I'm very glad that print on demand and digital publishing make obscure books like this available again at affordable prices. Vickers is well worth a look. I am sure he wrote too much, and I think he was better suited to short stories than novels because in the longer form he found it difficult not to digress.But there are some nice touches in this story which make it well worth reading.