Friday 18 October 2019

Forgotten Book - A Bullet for Rhino

Clifford Witting (1907-68) is one of those writers who flew somewhat under the radar. His work isn't often discussed, but he was elected to membership of the Detection Club ten years before his death, and his books are admired by such knowledgeable aficionados as Barry Pike and Nigel Moss. Nigel it was who lent me his copy of A Bullet for Rhino, originally published in 1950, and I'm glad he did.

This was the ninth case for Inspector Harry Charlton, a likeable fellow who happens to be an old boy of Mereworth School. He's invited to a reunion, at which, he's told, his well-known but highly controversial contemporary "Rhino" Garstang will be present. But it becomes clear that someone is anxious for him not to attend. It's clear (and not merely from the title) that murder is in the air. And as soon as we are introduced to Rhino, it's clear that he is a very suitable victim. He is one of those Golden Age victims who makes a point of giving people reasons to kill him. Most unwise.

Even though this is a post-war novel, it certainly has a Golden Age flavour. The restricted private school setting, so popular with Golden Age novelists, contributes to this. And Charlton here acts rather like an amateur detective, with the local cops taking charge when someone tries to blow up Rhino. The clever finale in particular seemed to me to be more typical of a Golden Age mystery than a conventional police story.

A cricket match at the school plays quite a significant part in the storyline, and as a cricket fan myself, I found this pleasing. Possibly those who aren't cricket lovers may be less impressed, but again cricket, with its ethos of fair play, is very much a game in keeping with the Golden Age tradition. All in all, I liked this book and felt Nigel's recommendation was spot on. 


J F Norris said...

I like him too and I'm amazed that no one has ever bothered to reprint any of his work. Well, there was that one U.S. library edition of Measure for Murder back in the 80s but it was never offered for sale o the public. Subject--Murder is my favorite of what I've read so far. Very resonant for our time with its depiction of a cruel martinet of a soldier who ends up murdered. Any of the first seven books he wrote, I think, are worthy of being reissued. The only one I didn't enjoy thoroughly -- though it has some wonderfully realized action scenes and excellent dialogue as always -- was his Edgar Wallace homage about a Napoleon of Crime -- The Case of the Busy Bees. It seemed completely out of step with the crime fiction being published by 1952; a real throwback to thrillers from the late 1920s and early 1930s.

I still have this book you review here, Dead on Time, Midsummer Murder and Measure for Murder to read. I keep all my Witting mysteries in a easy to reach box but I'm reluctant to tear through them all at once. When I'm done, they'll be no more; he wrote so few books and I can't find any more for sale that I can afford. He's one of my favorite "discoveries" since I started doing my blog and I want to spread out my enjoyment of his books for as long as I can.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John. Very interesting, and I know your enthusiasm is shared by several other knowledgeable crime fans. I shall definitely look out for Subject-Murder. As you say, alas, the books are not easy to find right now. It would be good to put that right.

Fiona said...

Your previous review in August of a book by Witting interested me, Martin, and I ordered a couple from eBay "just to try..." I have raced through Murder in Blue, am waiting impatiently for Measure for Murder to arrive, and have now bought A Bullet for Rhino. This was a serendipitous find on Abebooks - normally I search by author but this time put in the title only; the author's name was given by the bookseller as Whiting :)