Friday 18 May 2018

Forgotten Book - Murders in Sequence

I'd heard a little about the American author Milton Propper before I finally got around to sampling his work. Several commentators have compared his work to that of Freeman Wills Crofts, whom Propper admired (he was also a fan of Lynn Brock, I gather from the Passing Tramp blog). I was rather intrigued by the title of his last novel, Murders in Sequence (and also by its alternative title, The Blood Transfusion Murder), which was first published in 1943. Propper (1906-62) was a writer in the Golden Age tradition; his first novel appeared in 1929..

After a group of young people have been out on the town in Philadelphia, a car crash results in serious injury to Victor Watson. His cousin, Eugene Talbot, volunteers to donate blood to help save his life, but Talbot is murdered before the transfusion can take place. The strange sequence of murders foretold by the book's British title then starts to unfold. And it appears that the crimes are linked to inheritance, and a tricky family tree.

The initial police investigation results in the arrest of the obvious suspect, whose girlfriend seeks help from Propper's regular detective, cop Tommy Rankin. He operates almost like an amateur sleuth, re-examining the work undertaken by colleagues,and discovering that the case is far more complex than it seemed at first sight. Unfortunately, I found the investigation, and even the dramatic final plot twist, rather less engaging than I'd hoped.

This is partly because Propper's style of writing is so undistinguished that he makes Crofts seem like Graham Greene. The characters are lifeless, and even Tommy is a rather dull dog. The plotting, although quite crafty, seemed to me to be less meticulous than Crofts'. All this is a pity, because in other hands, the plot could have been the foundation of a very lively story. After writing this book, Propper abandoned the genre, and it may be that the lacklustre writing reflects the fact that he'd wearied of detective fiction. His later life seems to be have been deeply unhappy, and ultimately he committed suicide. So it would be harsh to judge him on this book alone. His earlier work may well brim with zest, but that can't really be said of Murders in Sequence.

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