Friday, 29 August 2014

Forgotten Book - Angel in the Case

Milward Kennedy is a Golden Age author whose books I've covered several times on this blog, because I'm intrigued by his work. I'm a great admirer of Anthony Berkeley, as was Kennedy, and Kennedy tried to emulate his friend's innovative approach to the writing of crime fiction. But if Berkeley was uneven - and he was - then Kennedy was very, very uneven. And although he wrote some excellent books, I'm afraid that he also wrote some that were extremely disappointing - I'm a huge fan of the Golden Age, of course, but there's no point in pretending that even the best writers of that era always made best use of their gifts..

Kennedy wrote a couple of novels in the Thirties under a different pen-name, Evelyn Elder (his second wife was called Evelyn and I'd speculate that there was an age difference between them, hence the pseudonym). The first, Murder in Black and White, has been republished in recent times by Ramble House, although I did find it disappointing. The second is Angel in the Case, and that's a very rare title indeed. I've been hunting it for ages, and now a kind person has made a copy available to me, so this is my choice for today's Forgotten Book.

Let me start with the good news. The book is furnished with wonderful maps of the scene of the crime - they are just about the most appealing of any that I've ever seen in a Golden Age novel, detailed and attractive. Now for the bad news. To my mind, the story is dire. The writing is perfectly good, but the story did not hold any appeal for me at all.

The book begins with a police investigation into the drowning of a wealthy man called Curtis. He is a publisher, and the guests (and suspects) at his country house include a poet and a couple of writers. Scope here, I thought, for Kennedy to provide us with some entertainment, but apart from a passing nod to the Detection Club oath, the material is flat and uninteresting from start to finish. The eponymous Angel is an attractive female house guest, but I found her no more engaging than the rest of the cast. The mystery was desperately dull even before an American gangster was introduced (invariably a Bad Sign in a British Golden Age whodunit) with no attempt at characterisation, and precious little humour. Kennedy could do much better than this, fortunately. It''s a real shame about Angel in the Case, but I can only say that I wish that Kennedy had devoted more time to elaborating the story in an appealing way rather than concentrating on the maps.

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