Friday, 25 March 2016

Forgotten Book - And Being Dead

My Forgotten Book for today was And Being Dead, the novel with which Margaret Erskine introduced herself to the reading public in 1938. My copy, inscribed by Erskine, contains a copy of the original review in The Observer by Torquemada, who admired it. Given that Torquemada was arguably the leading crime critic of the day, Erskine must have felt greatly encouraged, although oddly her next novel did not appear for another eight years, presumably for reasons connected with the war.

A libidinous artist called Kenneth Dean is introduced at the start of the book, and promptly dispatched. The murder is too much for the local police to handle, and they call in Scotland Yard. Inspector Septimus Finch, suave and public school educated, and his Hendon-trained sidekick, Sergeant Bratton, duly arrive to take charge.

The setting, a coastal resort called Coldhithe, is pretty well evoked. Erskine was born in Canada but brought up in Devon, and it may be that her fictional setting is based on a Devonian model, but I'm not sure about that. I am sure, though, that Erskine was a decent writer. This book has, like most first novels, a number of flaws, but the writing and characterisation are rather better than that to be found in many of the books of the Golden Age.

Finch is a mildly likeable character, and he became a fixture in Erskine's books. This  one, by the way, has sometimes been published under alternative titles - The Limping Man and The Painted Mask. Her reputation has faded, but her career as a published crime novelist lasted for forty years, which strikes me as no mean achievement. She wasn't especially prolific, barely averaging one novel every two years, but she doesn't deserve to remain forgotten..

1 comment:

Dean James said...

I find Erskine quite enjoyable and finally have a complete set of the Finch novels. Point of trivia: Erskine was published by Doubleday Crime Club in the US, and when the DCC started publishing June Thomson, they changed her Inspector Finch to Inspector Rudd, since they already had an Inspector Finch on their list.