Friday 28 December 2018

Forgotten Book - They Can't Hang Me!

James Ronald was a writer of lively Golden Age crime novels whose work fell into obscurity long ago. He was first and foremost an entertainer, but his books (or at least those I've read) seem to me to be rather more gripping and cleverly put together than those of some of authors of the era whose names may be better known. They Can't Hang Me!, which dates from 1938, is a case in point.

At first, I wasn't sure I was going to enjoy this one. Young and lovely Joan Marplay finds out (in a slightly contrived way) that her father Lucius, whom she believed to be dead, is actually alive and well but in a mental hospital, a long-term patient diagnosed with homicidal tendencies. The way that people with mental health problems were presented in almost all Golden Age fiction is rather unsatisfactory, and I did worry at first that this would affect my enjoyment. On the whole, though, I found myself willing to accept the story as simply being "of its time".

The cause of Marplay's troubles was the collapse of his newspaper business. It's now run by four untrustworthy chaps (including one grotesque sexual predator) and when Marplay escapes from the hospital it seems that he is about to embark on a campaign of multiple murder, wiping out the men he blamed for his predicament. What follows is an entertaining game of cat and mouse, and there are two examples of "impossible crimes".

Ronald combines elements of the pulp thriller with those of the classic detective story, and towards the end, to my surprise, I even found myself comparing the way he approached constructing the story with my own approach to Gallows Court. The two novels are very different in lots of ways, but I can see some correspondences. This thriller is exuberant and entertaining, and it deserves to be better known.



JJ @ The Invisible Event said...

Loved this when I read it recently -- Ronald is a wildly entertaining author, and the similarly-themed Six Were to Die is even wilder and pulpier.

My thoughts here:

Todd Mason said...

Ronald is new to me...thanks for the pointer...more drawing on the Edgar Wallace tradition than the new hardboiled?