Friday, 10 January 2014

Forgotten Book - A Dagger in Fleet Street

My Forgotten Book for today is R.C. Woodthorpe's second novel, A Dagger in Fleet Street, first published in 1934, and applauded at the time, but now neglected and very difficult to find. In fact, I owe my copy to a kind person who supplied it to me when all other attempts came to nothing. And, as usual with Woodthope, the book boasts a number of attractive features.

This is, like Sayers' Murder Must Advertise, a workplace mystery. Woodthorpe had set his debut novel, The Public School Murder in a fictional version of the place where he used to teach. He moved from education to journalism with the Daily Herald, which in the novel becomes the Daily Hope. And Woodthorpe's knowledge of newspaper life makes his portrayal of it more powerful and authentic than Christopher St John Sprigg's entertaining Fatality in Fleet Street, published at much the same time.

Woodthorpe is good not only at describing the nature of journalistic life, but also at capturing the uncertainty faced by working people in the aftermath of the Slump. No job was safe, and one character says, "Thank God for the National Union of Journalists." That isn't the sort of sentiment that is generally associated with Golden Age detective fiction is it? An illustration, I suggest, of how the Golden Age is frequently misunderstood. Woodthorpe's writing regularly reflected his political views. The same woman turns out to be a communist; she is portrayed positively throughout, though she is smart enough not to reveal her political views to the newspaper's proprietor, or the acting editor, who is a "petty Mussolini," and who finishes up with the titular dagger in his throat.

Woodthorpe supplies some very good lines, and sharp social comedy. The only snag is that he is obviously uninterested in his plot. He was a writer, I think, who used the detective form as a peg to hang his writing on, but he was not very good at constructing a mystery. The puzzle, involving a rather insipid and ridiculous campaign by the newspaper against a pretty young woman, is third rate at best. But I'm really glad I read th book, because it gave me an insight, albeit quite light-hearted, into life in Fleet Street at a fascinating time of our history.


Clothes In Books said...

I've not come across this author, but as I long-standing member of the NUJ I will cheer him on!

Martin Edwards said...

Woodthorpe is now obscure, Moira, but he could certainly write. I think you'll like his work.

The Passing Tramp said...

I like Woodthorpe and he definitely was no stodgy, stereotypically conservative GA mystery writer.