Friday, 29 January 2016

Forgotten Book - Terror at Staups House

Now, this is an obscure one. Hands up, those of you who have read Frank King's Terror at Staups House....not too many of you, I suspect, well-read though readers of this blog definitely are! It's another book, signed by the author (and dated 1927, the year of publication), which I acquired from the collection of the late Bob Adey, and it's a locked room mystery.

I bought it less than a fortnight ago, and it was my major purchase at a book fair in York. I managed to limit myself to buying four books, mainly because quite a few others that I fancied were a long way out of reach financially. This book, in excellent condition but lacking a dustwrapper, was at least affordable.

I say 'lacking a dustwrapper', but it was pointed out to me that the book is very unusual, in that the publishers, Bles, were experimenting at that time with the concept of having front endpapers which reproduced the cover. It's an experiment they didn't persist with, perhaps due to cost, but from a book collecting perspective, it's a very interesting feature. (And it's rather different from the more common, and less pleasing, sight of a dustjacket that has carefully been cut up and pasted over the endpapers; I have a few of those; they can look nice, but the element of vandalism is unappealing.) I'd be glad to hear from anyone who knows more about the Bles experiment, or anything similar.

So is the book itself any good? Well, to begin with, I feared the worst. The victim is one of those loathsome old misers who were so often properly dispatched in Golden Age fiction. There's talk of voodoo, Tula knives, the Aztecs, a curse, and vengeful foreigners, and there's a manservant who speaks in excruciating dialect. But although it's a melodramatic story, it's much better than many of its kind. King wrote with pace and some verve, and although the cast of suspects is small, he keeps one guessing pretty well. And pleasingly, the manservant abandons the dialect after being unmasked as a career criminal. (Obligingly, he continues to serve meals to the other suspects after the death of his unmourned master; talk about the lower orders knowing their place.!) Tolstoy it ain't, but it's good fun.



J F Norris said...

I have this! It's in an omnibus with two of his other books. One of the other two is called THE OWL which sounds like an Edgar Wallace "Napoleon of Crime" thriller. But I've read none of them. I figured it would be pulpy fun. I'll have to pull it out of it's bx of a prison. For once I actually remember which box this one is in. Thanks for the review, Martin!

Martin Edwards said...

I'll be very interested to learn how you rate it, John. Might have known you'd be the one to have come across it!