Friday, 19 February 2016

Forgotten Book - Murder by Burial

Murder by Burial (1938), my Forgotten Book for today, is the one and only crime novel published by Stanley Casson. The novel was published in the US as well as in the author's native UK,and was also an early green Penguin paperback, a successful track record for a new crime writer (although he published a range of non-fiction books). So why did Casson never write another mystery?

Part of the reason may be that, although this book offers a great deal of interest, it is not a strong mystery. Casson took the basic idea from a real life accident (not a crime) involving two fellow archaeologists,but really the concept strikes me as better suited to a clever "howdunit" type of short story rather than a full length novel. There's quite a lot of padding as Casson shares his thoughts about politics - the previous year, he'd published a rather gloomy book called Progress and Catastrophe.

But another explanation is that Casson died just six years after the book was published. He was only 54, but he was serving as a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Intelligence Corps - having previously fought with distinction in the First World War. He died on active service, not long after having escaped from the Nazis while serving in Europe. Obviously a brave man, and undoubtedly a man of great talent. Amongst other things, he was an archaeology don at New College, a colleague of the legendary Reverend Spooner.

The story is a simple one, but it's told amusingly and written well. A retired colonel sets up an organisation to extol the glories of the Roman influence on Britain, but soon the movement is hi-jacked for Fascist purposes. A local canon and his pretty young woman friend become involved in an archaeological excavation, but the canon falls out with the colonel, with fatal consequences. An unusual story, and certainly worth seeking out, despite its flaws.


Rich said...

I read this a couple of years ago. Found it extremely hard going in terms of pace. However, what did stick in my mind was the feeling shown towards the murder victim by the other characters - their grief and loss which wasn't going to go away once they discovered whodunnit. Not something that you read much of in these kind of books.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Rich. You are quite right to highlight this aspect of the story, and I do agree. Casson wasn't a great plot man, but he could certainly write well.