Friday, 15 March 2013

Forgotten Book - Murder at Cambridge

Murder at the 'Varsity, written by Q. Patrick, and first published in 1933, is also known as Murder at Cambridge. And it has recently been republished under that latter title by that splendid small press, Ostara, in its attractively produced Cambridge Crime series. It's a very welcome reissue, but the fact that the story is set in Cambridge, England, might raise an eyebrow. For was not Q. Patrick (later, Patrick Quentin) an American writer?

The answer is no, not in this particular case. The Patrick/Quentin names concealed, over the years, the identities of no fewer than four different writers, two men and two women. As I understand it, this particular book is the only one that was written by Richard Webb alone. And Webb was an Englishman, and was an undergraduate at Cambridge before moving to the US. It is clear from reading the book that he had a close understanding of Cambridge university life - there is a whiff of authenticity that does not suggest research from a distance.

The story is a pretty good one, too. The narrator, Hilary Fenton, is a native of Philadelphia (where Webb worked after emigrating) and a fellow student who is murdered comes from South Africa (where Webb had worked before moving to the US.) Fenton's attempts to get involved in the sleuthing are compromised by the fact that he has fallen in love with a pretty student who was lurking around the murder scene. Rather foolishly, he does not tell the police all he knows about the victim, and complications ensue.

I thought I'd solved the puzzle, but no - the author had a neat twist up his sleeve. The culprit was genuinely unexpected, and overall I thought Webb got away rather well with some rather unlikely plot manoeuvres. He was a clever writer, as was the better known Hugh Wheeler,with whom he soon began to collaborate. This solo effort does, however, show that Webb was an accomplished detective novelist in his own right. This is an entertaining Golden Age story, on a par with the better known books set in Oxford during the same era.


harriet said...

I just left a comment or thought I had. In case it didn't appear I said that though I don't comment often on here I really enjoy the series and here is another book I'd love to read. Many thanks

Clothes In Books said...

Hi Martin - I too recently read this book and featured it on my blog

I enjoyed it too, and am glad Ostara Publishing is re-publishing gems from an earlier age - good for them.

Martin Edwards said...

Harriet, got both comments, thanks. I moderate comments as I'm getting a vast amount of spam at present for some reason, so there is sometimes a short delay before a comment appears. But can I say that it's always good to hear from you and I'd also recommend J C Masterman's An Oxford Tragedy if you've not read it.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Clothes in Books. They are a good outfit, and have revived some fascinating books.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pointer to this one - I admit it was new to me. I've just posted a review over at my site, with a hat tip to you and a link back here for my readers to follow. As clothesinbooks says, good for Ostara Publishing, too!

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks, Les. Good to hear from you and I am glad you found the book of interest.