Friday 11 December 2020

Forgotten Book - Gold Was Our Grave

Gold Was Our Grave ranks as one of Henry Wade's more obscure titles. It was published in 1954, at a time when his reputation as one of the most accomplished practitioners of Golden Age detection was fading, and it has never attracted any significant critical discussion. But it features his main detective character, the likeable, hard-working, and occasionally fallible John Poole of  Scotland Yard, and boasts several of the attributes that made Wade well worth reading.

The book appeared at a time when the likes of Patricia Highsmith and Margaret Millar on the other side of the Atlantic, and Margot Bennett, Shelley Smith, Julian Symons, and John Bingham in the UK, were remaking the crime novel. Their books didn't, for instance, tend to include maps of the crime scene in the classic tradition - but Wade's novel does, with a drawing of the relevant part of Lincoln's Inn Fields. It's a small point, but it illustrates that he was working in a vein that was no longer fashionable.

The early pages of the story give us a rather plodding (although relevant) account of a fraud trial involving a South American gold mine. None of the alleged fraudsters was convicted and now, it seems, someone is out to take a rather belated revenge. The prime mover in the gold mine fiasco is now a successful businessman and appears to be the victim of an attempted murder. But he doesn't want police protection - will this prove to be a fatal mistake?

There are plenty of classic touches here, as well as a couple of digs, characteristic of Wade, at the pernicious nature of British taxation policy in the post-war era. The plot twist is a variant of one used to brilliant effect by Agatha Christie in the 30s, the detective work is in the Freeman Wills Crofts manner, and the cynical attitude at the end of the book towards the legal system and the nature of justice is worthy of Anthony Berkeley. This is a rather wordy novel, and it could and perhaps should have been pared down considerably. But it's decent entertainment, a book that doesn't deserve to have been so widely overlooked.

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